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STOIC SIX PACK 7
William De Witt Hyde
Stoic Six Pack 7 - The Sophists
The Sophists by Henry Sidgwick. First published in Lectures on the philosophy of Kant and other philosophical lectures & essays, 1905.
Protagoras by Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. First published in Dialogues: containing The Apology of Socrates, Crito, Phaedo, and Protagoras; with introd by the translator, Benjamin Jowett, by Plato in 1899.
Euthydemus by Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. First published in The dialogues of Plato by Plato in 1892.
Gorgias by Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. First published in The dialogues of Plato by Plato in 1892.
Memoirs of Socrates by Xenophon. Translated by Henry Graham Dakyns. First published in The works of Xenophon by Xenophon; Dakyns, Henry Graham in 1890.
Stoic Self-control by William De Witt Hyde. First published in The Five Great Philosophies of Life by William De Witt Hyde, 1911.
The Sophists – Biographical Sketches by William Smith. First published in A new classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology and geography: partly based upon the Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology by William Smith in 1860.
Stoic Six Pack 7 - The Sophists. Published by Enhanced Media, 2016.
By Henry Sidgwick
The Memoirs of Socrates
By William De Witt Hyde
Biographical Sketches by William Smith
The old view of the Sophists was that they were a set of charlatans who appeared in Greece in the fifth century, and earned an ample livelihood by imposing on public credulity: professing to teach virtue, they really taught the art of fallacious discourse, and meanwhile propagated immoral practical doctrines. That, gravitating to Athens as the center of Greece, they were there met and overthrown by Socrates, who exposed the hollowness of their rhetoric, turned their quibbles inside out, and triumphantly defended sound ethical principles against their plausible pernicious sophistries. That they thus, after a brief success, fell into well-merited contempt, so that their name became a byword for succeeding generations.
Against this [historian George] Grote argues: (l) That the Sophists were not a sect but a profession: and that there is no ground for attributing to them any agreement as to doctrines. That, in fact, the word Sophist was applied in Plato's time in a more extensive sense than that in which he uses it: so as to include Socrates and his disciples, as well as Protagoras and his congeners. So that, as far as the term carried with it a certain invidious sense, this must be attributed to the vague dislike felt by people generally ignorant towards those who profess wisdom above the common: a dislike which would fall on Plato and the Philosophers as well as on the paid teachers whom he called Sophists: though no doubt the fact of taking pay would draw on the latter a double measure of the invidious sentiment. (2) That as regards the teaching of immoral doctrines, even Plato (whose statements we must take cum grano) does not bring this as a charge against the principal Sophists, Protagoras, Prodicus, Hippias, Gorgias: that it is a priori improbable that any public teachers should propound doctrines so offensive to the common sentiments of mankind: that, therefore, we can scarcely suppose that Thrasymachus so propounded the anti-social theory of justice attributed to him by Plato in the Republic; and that even if he did, we cannot infer from this anything as to the other Sophists.
It is on the first point that [Plato scholar] Mr. [Benjamin] Jowett joins issue, and to this I shall at present restrict myself. Mr. Jowett urges that though the meaning of the word Sophist has no doubt varied, and has been successively contracted and enlarged, yet that there is a specific bad sense in which any intelligent Athenian would have applied the term to certain contemporaries of Socrates, and not to Socrates himself, nor to Plato. Wherever the word is applied to these latter, "the application is made by an enemy of Socrates and Plato, or in a neutral sense." In support of this he points out that "Plato, Xenophon, Isocrates, Aristotle" all give a bad import to the word: and the Sophists are "regarded as a separate class in all of them."
Now, first, I should have thought that we might say of any term denoting a man's walk in life, and connoting doubtfully an invidious sentiment, that it is either applied in a neutral sense or by an enemy, i.e. with polemical intent. Even the slightest flavour of dislike is enough to make the man himself, and his friends, avoid such a word: as we see in the common use of the terms 'attorney' and 'solicitor.'
Therefore, that disciples of the martyred sage, and those who learnt from them, never called Socrates a Sophist is very certain. But that the Athenian public considered him as such, whether intelligently or not, is surely undeniable. Mr. Jowett says that Aristophanes may have identified Socrates with the Sophists "for the purposes of comedy." But the purposes of comedy are surely not served by satire that does not fall in with common conceptions. The Athenians looked on Socrates as the most popular and remarkable of the teachers to whom young men resorted with the avowed object of learning virtue or the art of conduct, and the more evident result of learning a dangerous dexterity in discourse; and as such they called him a Sophist. The differences between him and such men as Protagoras would appear to them less important than the resemblances.
The charges brought against him by his accusers express just the general grounds of suspicion felt against both alike. "Whether a man corrupted youth rhetorically or dialectically, whether he made the worse case appear the better by Declamation or Disputation, would seem to them quite a secondary matter. That this view involved a profound misapprehension, I do not of course deny: but all evidence seems to me to show that the misapprehension was widespread and permanent. More than half a century afterwards, Aeschines (who can scarcely be regarded as 'an enemy'), when pleading for another example of salutary severity, reminds the Athenians how they had put to death the Sophist Socrates.
Again, Xenophon tells us that when the Thirty Tyrants wished to silence Socrates, they ordained that no one was to teach sophistry. Xenophon says, of course, that they did it to bring him into disfavour with the multitude: but the whole proceeding implies that this was the popular view of his function.
Mr. Jowett, however, appeals to the evidence of Isocrates, who clearly, he says, regarded the Sophists as a separate class, and at the same time used the term in a bad sense. And other writers on the same side have laid much stress on the testimony of Isocrates, as standing outside the Socratic tradition, and so free from any suspicion that may be raised as to the impartiality of Plato or Aristotle.
Isocrates attacks the Sophists in the same style as Plato: only Isocrates calls Sophists just those whom Plato and posterity call Philosophers, while the more honourable title of "Philosophy" he reserves for his own special industry, the Art of Public Speaking. When two antagonists, with vocations so sharply contrasted as those of Plato and Isocrates were, both claim for themselves the name of Philosopher and endeavour each to fix on the other the odious appellation of Sophist, we may surely conclude that either term is in popular usage so vague as easily to comprehend both, and that the two are varyingly contrasted according the temper of the speaker. This is confirmed when we look again at Xenophon.
Plato of course does not class himself or Socrates as a Sophist. But just as Isocrates is obliged to admit that he would be commonly ranked as one, so Plato cannot deny that there is a strong family likeness between his master's method and that of the other kind of Sophist, and that it requires considerable subtlety to distinguish the two: and does not scruple to attack as sophistical teaching the favourite doctrines of his fellow-disciples.
As this point is one to which Grote does not expressly advert, and as it seems to me of considerable importance not only for the present controversy, but generally for the right understanding of Plato's dialogues, and even to some extent in the determination of their chronological order, I shall allow myself to dwell on it at some length.
It seems to me that those dialogues of Plato in which Sophists are mentioned fall naturally into two groups, and that in each of these the being called Sophist exhibits a strongly and definitely marked character, so different from that of his homonym in the other group, that if they had not been called by the same name, no reader would ever have dreamt of identifying the two.
Let us first take the Sophists with whom we are by far the most familiar — Protagoras, Polus, Hippias, Gorgias, Thrasymachus. What is the common characteristic of these persons, as presented by Plato? — besides that of receiving pay, which must surely be considered an accident rather than a property of any class of teachers. We cannot even say that all professed to teach virtue, for Gorgias expressly disclaims any such profession. The one attribute found in all of them is that they are rhetoricians and declaimers, in the habit of making long speeches, and quite unused to that interchange of question and answer which is the essence of the Socratic manner of discourse. It is true that they have reflected upon language and affect subtle verbal distinctions: but upon this, as on other subjects, they can only talk at length: they are not prepared to define their abstract terms (or use them with precision), and are perfect tiros in the art of argumentation. The contrast between Protagoras and Socrates in this respect is almost tediously emphasised in the dialogue that bears the former's name. Protagoras can scarcely be brought to the requisite brevity of answer: he will insist on 'orating.' And the unsuspicious innocence with which he and Hippias and Polus submit themselves at first to the Elenchus, their absolute incapacity to see whither the questions are leading, the swift and sudden shame of their overthrow, are the comic effects on which the dialogues rely for their lighter entertainment. Thrasymachus, in the Republic, is not quite so fresh: he knows somewhat more what Socrates is after, and thinks he can parry the invincible Elenchus: but still like the rest he is essentially a rhetorician, his forte lies in long speeches, and at the critical point of the discussion he wishes to make his escape, "having deluged our ears with a regular douche of discourse," as Socrates says.
Let us now turn to the other group of dialogues and examine the Sophist us he is defined in the Sophistes and caricatured in the Euthydemus. The difference of type is most striking. The Sophist's manner of discourse is no longer sharply contrasted with that of Socrates: it is rather, as Professor Campbell says, "the ape of the Socratic Elenchus." A shifty disputer has taken the place of the windy declaimer of the other dialogues: instead of pretentious and hollow rhetoric we have perverse and fallacious dialectic. The sophists of the Protagoras and Gorgias have close affinity: in fact, Plato can only distinguish them by restricting the sphere to forensic speaking: this, he tells us, is a quackery that simulates justice, while the Sophists are more ambitious quacks who mimic the art of legislation. These latter, then, correspond to the teachers among whom Isocrates classes himself — strongly objecting to be confounded with those who merely wrote and taught for the law-courts — except that the latter carefully avoids the more vague and extravagant professions which Protagoras and others probably made: he still, however, maintains that in so far as Virtue, Practical Wisdom, and Political Science can be taught, the teaching of them is involved in and bound up with the art of public speaking. This, he claims, does impart useful wisdom in so far as these are not gifts of nature and effects of practice: and as making this claim he is distinctly Plato's Sophist of the respectable type.
Still this restriction of philosophy to its forensic application is somewhat forced: both Sophist and Rhetor would be popularly regarded as professing the art of declamatory or rhetorical discourse and so naturally classed together and confounded. But the Sophistes of the dialogue Gorgias is expressly contrasted with both the Statesman and the Rhetor: he is the Professor of Disputation, of the art of question and answer according to rules,— thus exhibiting exactly the character which Isocrates tries to fix upon Plato. Further, we are told that this Sophist claims to deliver men from groundless conceit of their own knowledge by cross-examining them and pointing out their inconsistencies: the special function of Socrates. Of course Plato does not admit that the Sophist is the true Dialectician: but he resembles him as a wolf does a dog. He is a tremendous argufier, and able to impart to others the argumentative art. The difference between him and Socrates is that his effect is purely negative: he begins and ends with captious disputation, his skill is simply to bewilder and perplex: he is not, as Socrates, a midwife of true knowledge.
It is just this difference which is dramatically exhibited in the Euthydemus, with much broad drollery of caricature. Here a couple of Sophists of the eristical sort are seen exercising their art on an intelligent youth. They put captious questions to him and entangle him in contradictions by means of verbal quibbles, until he does not know whether he is standing on his head or his heels. Socrates then takes him in hand and, by gentler questioning, ultimately draws out of him answers of remarkable point and pregnancy; and so the true Dialectic is contrasted with its counterfeit Eristic.
The difference is clear enough to us, who are accustomed to trace the whole growth of philosophy from the fertile germ of Socratic disputation. But we can see even from Plato himself that it would be much less clear to unphilosophic contemporaries: that the effect of the Socratic interrogations on a plain man would be just this bewilderment and perplexity and sense that he had been taken in by verbal quibbling, which Plato describes as the effect of Eristic Sophistry. At any rate, the Sophist of the Sophistes and the Euthydemus is much more like the disciples of Socrates than he is like the Sophist of the Protagoras and the Gorgias. And therefore, while the uninstructed public, as we have seen, would lump Declaimers and Disputers together as Professors of the Art of Discourse, I think Mr. Jowett's "intelligent Athenian" would be much more certain to grasp the distinction between the teachers of public speaking who more or less claimed to impart political wisdom on the one hand, and the teachers of disputation and ethics on the other, than he would be to appreciate the finer differences that separated Euthydemus and Dionysodorus from the Socratic Schools.
But we may go further than this. Plato himself does his best to obliterate these latter differences: not of course as far as his own teaching is concerned, but certainly in respect of his brother Socratics. Even the received Histories of Philosophy do not altogether conceal this fact from the student. It is true that he reads in one place of Sophistical Eristic, which he is led to look on as a part of the charlatan's stock-in-trade: and in another place of Megarian Eristic, which he regards as a development of philosophy. But he can get no clear notion of the difference between the two: and when he comes to the Euthydemus he finds them indistinguishably blended in the object of Plato's polemic. Not only is the whole manner and method of the Sophists in this dialogue a manifest caricature of the manner and method of Socrates — the Sophists profess knowledge by means of dialogue: they challenge the interlocutor; their examples are drawn from the common objects and vulgar trades, the frequent recurrence of which in the talk of Socrates was (as we learn from Xenophon) an established joke — but further they maintain positions that we know to have been held by Megarians and Cynics, their fallacies and quibbles are just like those of Eubulides, and we may fairly presume that what we have here presented to us as "Sophistic" is neither more nor less than a caricature of the Megarian Logic.
In short, there is only one kind of Eristic in Plato’s view: and the only reason why historians insist on distinguishing two kinds is, that they have made up their minds that there must be a broad line of distinction between the Sophists and the disciples of Socrates.
The results so far obtained — that among the Sophists attacked by Plato we can distinguish two kinds corresponding to two classes distinguished by Isocrates: that in one of the Isocratean species Plato is polemically included, while with the corresponding Platonic Sophists Plato's fellow-disciples are inextricably commingled — all this seems to me certain, and quite sufficient to refute the received opinion that there "was a broad and clear historical distinction between Sophists and Philosophers. The position which I shall go on to maintain is more hypothetical, and I am anxious to separate it from what I have so far tried to prove, in order that any doubts which may be felt with regard to the one may not extend themselves insensibly to the other.
I am disposed to think that the Art of Disputation which is ascribed to Sophists in the Euthydemus and the Sophistes (and exhaustively analysed by Aristotle) originated entirely with Socrates, and that he is altogether responsible for the form at least of this second species of Sophistic.
Thus to turn the tables on the arch-antagonist of Sophistry, and charge him with sowing the sophistical tares which his great pupil is so earnest to separate from his dialectical wheat, will seem a paradox. And I cannot prove it: but I think I can show that it is the most probable hypothesis.
My first argument is one of general historical probability. I do not see from whom else the method could have been derived — as far as the form is concerned: for no doubt its sceptical and destructive aim, and the logical puzzles and paradoxes which it uses, may be traced to Protagoras and Zeno. But as a method of conducting argument, it seems to me just an ape of the Socratic Elenchus: a deliberate, artificial reproduction of the spontaneous and characteristic manner of the great sage, a manner which shared and expressed — and indeed seems to us inseparable from — his philosophic and personal originality, his Induction and his Irony.
I am aware that the authority of Diogenes Laertius stands in the way of this view. He states on Aristotle's evidence that Zeno was the originator of Dialectic, thus making no distinction between the Zenonian and the Socratic methods. This assertion is rather an awkward fact for me: and I thought at first that it was impossible in face of it to maintain my hypothesis. But on reflection there appeared to be fair ground for discarding it: for (1) we cannot really reconcile Diogenes and Plato, but are forced to choose between the two; and (2) we can suggest a very probable explanation of Diogenes' assertion, assuming it to be erroneous.
First, then, it seems to me quite incredible that if Protagoras had really not only practised, but actually invented, Eristic, as described in the Sophistes — methodical disputation by short questions and answers — he could ever have been represented as Plato represents him in the dialogue which bears his name. For here he is not casually or slightly, but emphatically and prominently contrasted with Socrates, as the master of the opposite method of long speaking. It is true that he professes to be able to speak at any length that may be desired: but this is only a bit of his brag: it is quite clear that he cannot. The Elenchus is quite new to him, and he falls a most helpless victim to it. Now the coarsest satirist would not describe a man as quite unskilled in an art which he had himself invented: and Plato is not a coarse satirist: and moreover, as Grote well observes, he is not here even a severe one, as far as Protagoras is concerned: he wishes to allow him such credit as he deserves, and so he does not put in his mouth (as in the case of Prodicus and Hippias) a piece of affected verbiage to make him ridiculous, but an able and interesting dissertation.
He treats him with consideration and fairness, if not with esteem, as a master in his art such as it was.
It seems to me then that Plato could not have known what is stated by Diogenes, and at the same time that he must have known it, if the statement had been true. He was no doubt aware that Protagoras was a favourite with the Eristics: indeed he himself traces this connexion in the Euthydemus. And I am inclined to think that it was on this reference that the statement of Diogenes was based; if so, we can conjecture exactly how he was misled. Protagoras, no doubt, was in a manner Eristic, just as Zeno was, but it was in a rhetorical manner. Diogenes finding the reference in the Euthydemus, naturally attributes this latter to the famous father of sophistry.
But I should not rely on this hypothetical reasoning, if it were not supported by strong general probabilities. Surely the whole conception of Socrates and his effect on his contemporaries, as all authorities combine to represent it, requires us to assume that his manner of discourse was quite novel: that no one before had systematically attempted to show men their ignorance of what they believed themselves to know. Suppose a society to which the "Art of Wrangling," as Locke calls it, is familiar, and the historical Socrates, whom we seem to know as well as we know Dr. Johnson, seems quite dépaysé: we feel that his philosophical originality and his moral earnestness must have expressed themselves in some quite different manner.
But Socrates once there, appearing to the public as the Arch-Sophist, who overcame all rivals in wordy fight, and by his greater impressiveness and attractiveness to youth threw them all into the shade, so that comedians naturally selected him to represent the class — what could be more natural than that he should have a host of imitators? Indeed Xenophon expressly tells us of such men who, from the free and abundant banquet of Socratic discourse, carried away fragments which they sold for money.
The question then is, Would Plato call such men Sophists? It must be borne in mind that a Sophist, in Plato's peculiar use of the term, combined two attributes: he taught for pay, and he taught sham knowledge: and the term might seem to be applicable wherever these attributes were found in combination. If then there were among the disciples of Socrates men who taught for pay, not having private fortunes like Plato, and who taught sham knowledge, i.e. doctrines with which Plato disagreed: how was he to regard them? I imagine he would be puzzled, and would make distinctions among them. There might be some like Euthydemus and Dionysiodorus, in whom he would feel an absolute want of philosophic earnestness: with these, whether they had or had not formed part of the — no doubt varying and irregular — circle who listened to Socrates, he would recognise no tie of brotherhood: and would not hesitate, if occasion offered, to satirise them under the invidious term.
There would be others like Aristippus, who certainly took money for his teaching, and against whose theory and practice Plato would feel a strong aversion: but who was yet a man of convictions, and a man of speculative force and originality. He would be difficult to class. And in fact, though Aristotle speaks of him as a Sophist, Plato never does, never indeed mentions him personally, though he is understood to be directly controverting his theories in two dialogues. If, again, there were also members of the School of Megara, with which Plato had at first felt the closest affinity, and from which his divergence had been slow and gradual: if these undoubted Socratics had fallen away into the wickedness of taking fees, while their dialectical method degenerated more and more into captious and purely negative disputation: Plato, we may suppose, would be pained and perplexed. But he might gradually come to recognise that these men, even though they might be old friends and actual co-disciples of Socrates, were yet essentially Sophists, and their teaching Sophistry.
I conceive, then, that Socrates was seed and source of a new kind of Sophistry, the post-Socratic Sophistry, as we may call it: which it was extremely difficult for the subtlest mind to distinguish from the profession of Socratic philosophy. Or may wo not say, that the distinction would be properly impossible, conjecturing that the proper positive and negative characteristics of the Sophist, presence of fees and absence of philosophic earnestness, would not be found together? It is clear that Plato's conception of a Sophist involves the — I trust — groundless assumption that "the man who takes fees must be a quack": and if he found men taking fees, whom he would shrink from calling quacks, though he might deplore their philosophic aberrations, he would be in a dilemma as to the employment of the term.
At this point, one wants to know exactly how far the Socratic principle of not taking fees was carried out in what we are accustomed to call the Socratic schools, intensively and extensively: how many acted on it, and how strictly. No doubt all true disciples of Socrates would be reluctant to abandon the principle, and to give for gold what gold should never buy. But il faut vivre: and what were men to do who had neither the spirit of Antisthenes nor the fortune of Plato?
Then, again, there are different ways of effecting the transfer of commodities: one may veil or attenuate the repulsiveness of the transaction in various degrees.
Even the virtue of Socrates is said to have gone out frequently to dinner: Quintilian, indeed, reports a tradition that Socrati collatum sit ad victum. Plato was, as I have said, well-born, and probably well-to-do: but even he, if we may trust the Epistles, did not disdain presents from Dionysius and other friends. Poorer Socratics, one may surely assume, would take similar presents with less scruple, and the practice would gradually become regular. At this stage it would be difficult to distinguish presents from fees: especially from fees claimed in the magnificent manner of Protagoras. I observe that Dr. Thompson has no hesitation in identifying the disputatious Sophists of Isocrates, who imparted virtue for four or five minae, with "some of the minor Socratics": and it seems probable that the number of such paid Socratics would increase as time went on and the personal influence of the master declined.
In fact, the principle of gratuitous teaching was so impracticable, that it must be given up: until the community generally saw the propriety of supporting philosophers, as in Plato's model state, they must get a livelihood out of society somehow.
Meanwhile, I think, we may assume that the first type of Sophist was declining: or rather was gradually shrinking back into the rhetorician out of which he had expanded. The new dialectical method had the attraction of novelty: and at the same time all the nobler element of the strong and widespread influence which had thronged the lectures of Protagoras and Hippias, the enthusiasm for wisdom and virtue, the fearless aspiration and the sublime credulity of youth, would be attracted and absorbed by the new teaching. lsocrates, no doubt, with his "philosophy" represents in a manner the old Sophists: but in his profession of practical wisdom there was but a meagre residuum of the magnificent promises of Protagoras. There were besides, as Aristotle informs us, teachers who gave systematic instruction in political science, using collections of laws and constitutions. But such moralists as Prodicus we may assume to have quite disappeared in the fourth century: they are in fact, to use Welcker's phrase, "forerunners of Socrates" and true ethical philosophy: they represent an earlier and ruder stage of moral reflection: when the Socrates has come their day is over.
The time, then, would arrive when Eristic would be the only prominent rival of Dialectic: and when Plato, looking abroad for the quack teacher to contrast with the true philosopher, would discover him among his old friends and comrades, and find in his features an odious resemblance to the revered lineaments of his master. But this view of Eristic would not come to him all at once: there would be a clear interval between the time when he distinguished it as a perverse and mistaken dialectic from his own method, and the time when he actually identified it with Sophistic.
Now I think that just this appears if we arrange the dialogues of Plato in the chronological order which would on other grounds be most probable, and trace his employment of the two terms — Sophistic and Eristic — down the stream of time.
Take first the Protagoras. This is generally placed in the first group of the dialogues, chronologically arranged. I am inclined to place it among the very earliest. At any rate, I regard it as representing Plato's recollections of the actual collision between Socrates and the original Sophists. Here there is no mention of Eristic: nor does it appear in the Gorgias, which however must be placed at a considerable interval from the Protagoras in order to allow time for the complete change that has taken place in Plato's ethical view. A similar view to this is developed again in the Republic, in one of the most brilliant and effective passages that Plato ever wrote. "You, the Public," he rings forth, "are the Arch-Sophist, it is your Public Opinion that corrupts youth." It may be observed that Thrasymachus, who is the victim of Socrates in the prolusory dialogue that fills the first book of the Republic, is not called a Sophist, and does not profess the art of conduct: he is merely a rhetorician who maintains a popular immoral paradox. The Republic, though it has much affinity to the Gorgias, must be placed, I think, at a certain interval after it: because Plato's ethical view has been again somewhat modified. He is no longer in the extreme of reaction from the hedonism of the Protagoras: he submits to try the issue between Virtue and Vice by the standard of Pleasure. Here we have already a method or manner of reasoning, in no way connected with Sophistry, but obviously belonging to persons seriously engaged in the pursuit of truth.
In the Meno, again, which I should place between the Gorgias and the Republic, we have Sophistic and Eristic side by side and unconnected. The Sophists are still our old friends: they are not exactly attacked: they are even half-defended against Anytus, who is made to confess that he knows nothing about them, though it is possible that he may be right in despising them. But Eristic is noticed quite independently: it is contrasted with the method of Socrates as a perverse kind of Dialectic.
This latter position is examined at length in the Theaetetus, which I consider to belong to a group of dialogues later than any yet mentioned. This group is defined in my view by two characteristics. (1) The concentration on ethical and political interests, due to the influence of Socrates, has ceased: Plato's attention is fixed on questions from a social point of view more narrow and professional, from a philosophical point of view more central and fundamental — on knowledge: its nature, object, and method. He has passed definitely from the marketplace into the school; and as an indication of this (2) he is now engaged in controversies with other philosophers: an element absent from the earlier dialogues — even from the Republic. When he takes up ethical questions again, as in the Philebus, the more scholastic and technical treatment is striking.
Now in the Theaetetus perverse dialectic is noticed, though not by the name of Eristic, but by that of Sophistic, which here bears its later meaning. "If," says Socrates, "you and I were engaged in Sophistic logomachy we should go on verbally confuting each other: a sort of confutation that produces no real conviction."
This, then, is the first identification of Sophistic and Eristic: that is, if I am right in connecting closely the Euthydemus and the Sophistes, previously discussed. I know that the Euthydemus has generally been placed earlier: I think this is due to a mistaken inference from the style. The extreme difference of form has blinded readers to the substantial affinity of its polemic with that of the Sophistes.
I am aware that any argument which depends on an assumption as to the order of Plato's dialogues is insecure, on account of the difference of opinion that exists on the subject. In particular, many would dispute the place I assign to the Theaetetus. But most, I think, would allow at any rate that there was a time at which Plato attacked as Sophists rhetorical moralists and politicians, a later time at which he defined a Sophist as a perverse disputer, and a time between the two at which he contended against the same sort of perverse disputations without identifying it with Sophistry. And this seems strongly confirmatory of my view that this kind of disputatious Sophistry is post-Socratic and a degenerate offshoot of Socratic method.
In the last number of this Journal I argued in favour of the view put forward by Grote as to the common acceptation, in the age of Socrates and Plato, of the term Sophist. I tried to show, that even after it had partly lost its vaguer and wider signification — inclusive of Masters of any Arts, Poets and literati generally — it still was not restricted to teachers of a particular sect or school, having common doctrines, or even a similar philosophic tendency: but was applied to all whom the vulgar regarded as teaching sophistry, whether they were rhetoricians and declaimers like Gorgias and Protagoras, or arguers and disputers, after the fashion that Socrates brought into vogue. It comprehended, therefore, several classes of persons besides the Professors of the Art of Conduct with whom Socrates is contrasted in the earlier Platonic dialogues. It included, for example, Rhetoricians generally, even though like Gorgias they disclaimed altogether the teaching of Virtue: in fact, it is evident from Plato's Gorgias that the distinction which he there tries to draw between Sophist and Rhetor is but vaguely apprehended by the popular mind. It included also (as I was chiefly concerned to show) Socrates and his disciples: who were considered — by all except themselves — as Sophists of the Disputatious, as distinct from the Declamatory, species. In fact, even Plato, in his later works, and Aristotle, show us, under the title of Sophist, a professor of quasi-Socratic argumentation: quite unlike the rhetorical lecturers on Conduct whom Socrates confutes in the earlier dialogues. We may perhaps distinguish three stages in the signification of the term: or rather (as they are not strictly successive) three areas of an application narrowing gradually, but not uniformly, so that at any time the class would be conceived with considerable vagueness, and very differently by different persons.
(1) Even if the ability which a Sophist professed was generally understood to be something higher than mere technical skill in any department, still an eminent specialist who made any pretensions to general enlightenment might easily be called a Sophist: and so the term would be applied, by many persons, to such professors of music as Damon and Pythoclides, to Hippodamus the architect and Meton the astronomer.
Then (2) I conceive that for about the period 450-350 B.C. the word was commonly used to denote all who sophists, including both the rhetorical and dialectical professors of the Art of Conduct (which the vulgar would persist in regarding as an Art of talking about conduct), and also rhetoricians like Gorgias, Polus, etc., down to Isocrates: not that the line between the two was very clearly drawn, as Isocrates claimed that his 'Philosophy' really involved instruction in morals, and it was matter of debate down to the time of Cicero whether the true orator must not necessarily possess a knowledge of things in general.
However, during the latter half of this period, after the death of Socrates, the appellation, being an invidious one, was probably repudiated with equal vigour and ultimate success by Rhetoricians and Philosophers.
But (3) we need not doubt that the still stricter manner in which Plato (in the Gorgias) conceives the class of sophists, was at least partially current in the time of Socrates. For when once cultivated society in Greece had become persuaded that excellence of character and conduct could really be imparted in lectures, and were willing to pay large sums for obtaining it: naturally the professors of this Ars Artium would be regarded as in a special sense Professors of Wisdom. And it is such men as these that the term always suggests to readers of Greek history, however they may be vaguely conscious of its wider usage. The fresh light in which he placed the ethical teaching of these men was the most important result of Grote's discussion.
If his argument had appeared generally so overwhelming, as it seems to myself, the present paper would not have been written: but since the contrary view is still supported by the whole prestige of German erudition, I shall endeavour to re-state Grote's ease in such a manner as to show most clearly on what a curious combination of misrepresented historical evidences, and misconceived philosophical probabilities, the opposite theory rests.
But before doing this, I wish to notice one or two points in which I cannot follow Grote, and by which he seems to me to have prejudiced unnecessarily the general acceptance of his theory. Although one may fairly say that to a mind like Grote's scarcely anything could be more antipathetic than the manner of Protagoras and his followers: and although it is evident to careful readers of his Plato, that he had the deepest enthusiasm for the spirit that dwelt in Socrates, and reigned over the golden age of Greek philosophy: still the intensity of his historical realisation has made him appear as an advocate of the pre-dialectical teachers. He seems always to be pleading at the bar of erudite opinion for a reversal of the sentence on certain eminent Hellenes. Now with this attitude of mind I have no sympathy.
There was at any rate enough of charlatanism in Protagoras and Hippias to prevent any ardour for their historical reputation — even though we may believe (as I do) that they were no worse than the average popular preacher, or professional journalist, of our own day. One might more easily feel moved to take up the cudgels for Prodicus, resenting the refined barbarity with which Plato has satirised the poor invalid professor shivering under his sheepskins.
But justice has been done to Prodicus by the very German erudition against which I have here to contend. And as for the class generally — they had in their lifetime more success than they deserved, and many better men have been worse handled by posterity. It is only because they represent the first stage of ethical reflection in Greece, and therefore the springs and sources of European moral philosophy, that one is concerned to conceive as exactly as possible the character of their teaching. The antagonism to that teaching, which developed the genius of Socrates, constitutes really so intimate a relation that we cannot understand him if we misunderstand 'Sophistik.'
But again, in his anxiety to do justice to the Sophist, Grote laid more stress than is at all necessary on the partisanship of Plato. No doubt there is an element of even extravagant caricature in the Platonic drama: and the stupidity of commentators like Stallbaum, who treat their author as if he was a short-hand reporter of actual dialogues, is provoking. Still, one always feels that the satirical humour of Plato was balanced and counteracted by the astonishing versatility of his intellectual sympathy. And the strength of Grote's case lies in what Plato actually does say of the Sophists, and not in suggestions of what he may have said untruly.
Before examining the evidence, it may be well to state clearly the conclusions commonly drawn from it. What does a writer mean when he speaks of 'Sophistical ethics,'? Sophistical theories on Law and Morality'? As far as I can see, he always means speculative moral scepticism leading to pure egoism in practice. He means a denial of the intrinsic validity of all traditional social restraints, and a recommendation to each individual to do exactly what he finds most convenient for himself. That nothing is really proscribed or forbidden to any man, except what he chooses to think so: that Nature directs us to the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure, and that the seeming strong moral barriers to this pursuit become mere cobwebs to enlightened reflection: that "Justice is good for others" than the just man, and that the belief that it is good for him to be just is kept up by these others in their own interest — this is supposed to be the teaching which the youth of Athens thronged to hear. Whatever speculative and rhetorical garnish the Sophists may have added, this was "der langen Rede kurzer Sinn."
I need not multiple quotations: and perhaps even these are superfluous. In Schwegler's smaller treatise, in Erdmann's more recent handbook, in the popular history of Curtius, views substantially the same are put forward. Now I would not deny that licentious talk of this kind was probably very prevalent in the polite society of Athens during the age of Socrates and Plato. But the precise point which I, after
The indictment thus sweepingly drawn against a profession proceeds upon two lines of argument. It appeals to the evidence of contemporary authority, especially Plato: and it is further supported on a presumption drawn from the metaphysical doctrines believed to have been held by the Sophists. It will be convenient to take the two arguments separately: accordingly, in the present paper, I shall confine myself entirely to the first.
The only testimony which it is worth our while to consider is that of Plato. Aristotle's knowledge of the contemporaries of Socrates must have been entirely second-hand: and indeed what he says of the Sophists must be taken to refer chiefly to what I have ventured to call post-Socratic Sophistry — the Eristical disputation which I conceive to have been chiefly imitated from Socrates, and to have borne at any rate less resemblance to the rhetorical moralising of Protagoras and Prodicus than it did to the dialectic of Socrates.
Obviously we can make no use of the evidence of writers like Aristophanes and Isocrates, who lump Socrates and his opponents together under the same notion. And though Xenophon does not, of course, do this: still his conception of sophistical teaching is evidently of the vaguest kind. He probably would have included under the term physical theorists like Anaxagoras, for we find him speaking of "the Cosmos, as the Sophists call it." So that we cannot refer with any confidence to his description of the class generally, but only to the notices that he gives of particular individuals. The most important of these is an account of a dialogue between Socrates and Hippias, which is noticed below: he further represents his master as borrowing from Prodicus the well-known fable of the Choice of Hercules: and this together with other testimonies has led to the general acquittal of Prodicus from the charges brought against his colleagues. But the main part of our historical investigation must turn upon the Platonic dialogues. Those in which the Professors of Conduct appear or are discussed are chiefly the Hippias Major and Minor (if we admit the genuineness — or verisimilitude — of the former), and the Protagoras: the Meno, Gorgias, and Republic. I have tried to show that in the Sophista and Euthydemus the Sophist is a teacher of an entirely different type. And of the six dialogues above mentioned I think it may be fairly contended that the three former are most likely to represent the actual relation of Socrates to the ethical teachers of his age; for they are no doubt the earlier, and the obvious aim of each of them is to exhibit Socrates in controversy with Sophists: whereas in the Meno the Sophists are only mentioned incidentally; the polemic of the Gorgias is directed primarily against Rhetoricians, and the Republic is chiefly constructive and expository. Now suppose a person to know no more than that there were in Athens certain clever men whose teaching was dangerous, as being subversive of the commonly received rules of morality, and tending to establish egoistic maxims of conduct : and suppose that with this information he is set down to read the three first-mentioned dialogues. He is introduced to Hippias, Protagoras, and Socrates. Hippias has composed an apologue in which he makes Nestor recommend to Neoptolemus the different kinds of conduct that are considered Noble or Beautiful: Socrates, by ingenious questioning, reduces him to helpless bewilderment. Again, Hippias has lectured on the contrast between the veracious Achilles and the mendacious Ulysses.
Socrates with similar ingenuity argues that wilful mendacity or wilful wrong-doing generally is better than ignorance and involuntary error: Hippias protesting against the dangerous paradox. Again, he finds Protagoras explaining how it is that any plain man is, to a certain extent, a teacher of Virtue, having knowledge of the chief excellencies of conduct, and being able to communicate them to others: a Professor of Conduct is only a man who knows and teaches what all plain men know and teach, in a somewhat more complete and skilful manner. Socrates, on the other hand, argues that all Virtue resolves itself into a method of calculating and providing the greatest possible pleasure and the least possible pain for the virtuous agent. Can any one doubt that such an unprejudiced reader would rise from his perusal of the three dialogues with the conviction that Socrates was the Sophist as commonly conceived, the egoist, the ingenious subverter of the plain rules of morality? And though perhaps even at this point of his studies (and certainly when he had read a little further) he would decide that Socrates was not really a ''corrupter of youth," he would see no reason to transfer the charge to Protagoras or Hippias. He would see that Socrates attacked their doctrines not as novel or dangerous, but as superficial and commonplace. Impostors they might be, in so far as they pretended to teach men what they knew no better than their pupils: but if they knew no better, they knew no worse: they merely accepted and developed the commonly received principles. And thus — to come to the later dialogues to which I have referred — one finds that Socrates even half defends them in the Meno against the popular odium which he shared with them: Anytus is made to confess, that whatever blame they may deserve, his own abuse of them has been uttered in mere ignorance. So again in the Republic, where Plato's satire takes a bolder sweep, there is a sort of indirect and latent defence of the Sophists against the charge on which Socrates suffered as their representative. Plato clearly feels, that whatever quarrel Philosophy might have with the Sophists, Demos had no right to turn upon them: Demos himself was the arch-Sophist and had corrupted his own youth: the poor Professors had but taught what he wanted them to teach, had but conformed to the common manner and tone of thought, accepted and formulated common opinion. Nor is the view of 'Sophistik' presented in the Gorgias really different, though it has been differently understood. No doubt it is a ' sham Art of Legislation,' it does not give the true principles on which a sound social order is to be constructed: but that is not because it propounds anti-social paradoxes: rather, it offers seeming-true principles, which fit in with the common sense of practical men.
It is said, however, that there are other passages in Plato which clearly exhibit the anti-social tendencies of the Sophistic teaching: and that especially in the last two dialogues to which I have referred such evidence is to be found. Let us proceed to examine these passages in detail.
It is clear from the references in his Ethics, etc., that Aristotle found this doctrine very widely held by his predecessors: and we should draw a similar inference from a well-known passage in Plato's Laws where he speaks of "the wisest of all doctrines in the opinion of many . . . that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them."
The commentators do not hesitate to treat these passages as referring to the Sophists: in fact, they make the reference in such a matter-of-course manner, that one is startled to find how entirely unauthorised it is. Aristotle's allusions are quite general: and Plato simply says that these are "the sayings of wise men, poets as well as prose-writers." This no doubt does not prove that he is not referring to the Sophists: but when we consider that it is the great assailant of Sophistry who is speaking, it seems pretty strong negative evidence. It is said, however, that other passages in Plato show so clearly that the doctrine was actually held by the Sophists, that there was no reason why he should mention them by name in the Laws.
When we attempt to speak exactly of the relation of Callicles to 'The Sophists,' the necessity of distinguishing the different meanings of the term Sophist makes itself strongly felt. Callicles may be fairly or at least plausibly called a pupil of Gorgias, but expresses utter contempt for Professors of Conduct (a class in which Gorgias expressly declined to be included). I think the explanation of this is not hard to find, if we bear in mind the circumstances under which the dialogue was written. It must be later than the execution of Socrates: and it was probably composed not long after that event: at a time, therefore, when the orthodox-conservative reaction was at its height, and the odium attaching to the name of Sophist especially strong. The languidly contemptuous dislike and distrust with which old-fashioned persons had formerly regarded all this new-fangled lecturing and disputing on conduct was now changed into loud and menacing hostility. This new art that had attracted the leisured youth of Athens was not, they now saw, mere idle pastime and folly: it was a deadly seed from which aristocratic-revolutionary intrigues and the despotism of the Thirty had sprung. Hence every one was anxious to repudiate the invidious title: in particular, the teachers of Rhetoric would emphasise the distinction between them and the Professors of Conduct, which hitherto, in the view of the world in general, had scarcely been recognised.
"We have nothing to do," they would say, "with the charlatans who pretend to impart virtue: what we profess is the harmless, practical, necessary art of Public Speaking." Thus Isocrates, who in the preceding age would have accepted the title of Sophist, and who at a later period does not repudiate it, now insists on being called a Philosopher. Under these circumstances the polemical aim of Plato in writing the Gorgias was somewhat complex. On the one hand, he endeavours to show the substantial identity of Rhetoric and Sophistic: they were both aimed at the production of Appearances, not Realities: the benefits of both were equally hollow and illusory. On the other hand, he has no sympathy whatever with the prevalent fury against the Professors of Conduct, the blind selfish impulse of the Athenian public to find some scapegoat to punish for the general demoralisation which had produced such disastrous consequences. He does not say — as posterity generally have understood him to say — "It is not Socrates who has done the mischief, but other teachers of virtue with whom you confound him." On the contrary, he is anxious to show that the mischief is not attributable to Professors of Conduct at all. It is with this view that he introduces Callicles, the 'practical man' who despises professors, and thinks that the art of private and public life is to be learnt from men of the world. This is the sort of man who is likely to hold egoistic and sensual maxims of conduct. His unaided reflection, written not long before his death, penetrates the incoherencies and superficialities of the popular morality: his immoral principles are weeds that spring up naturally in the social soil, without any professional planting and watering, so long as the sun of philosophy is not risen.
This latter view appears still more clearly in the Republic, especially in the fine passage at the outset of Book 11. (compared with Book VL). There the naturalness of the evolution of audacious unrestrained egoism from conventional morality is made still more prominent. "We find," says the youthful interlocutor, "that people in general praise justice and try to instigate us towards it, but we always find that they do so by speaking of the rewards it gets from gods and men. They admit too that justice is hard and irksome, injustice easy and pleasant. Again, we find that they honour rich men in public and private, even though wicked: and do not conceal their contempt for the virtuous poor. Nay the gods, since their forgiveness and favour is to be obtained by sacrifices, seem to do much the same. Hence a spirited young man naturally thinks that though successful lawlessness is no doubt difficult, and perhaps ordinary people had better keep to the broad road of law-observance, still the former path is the nobler of the two in its very difficulty, and he who can walk it successfully is truly fortunate in the eyes of gods and men." Surely here we may read between the lines an answer to the charge against Socrates. "You corrupt youth," said the Athenians to the sage, "and they make oligarchical revolutions." "Not so," retorts the disciple, "it is you who cause the demoralization, with your low vows of virtue and of the gods.
What has been already said will have indicated the view that I take of the cynical deliverances of Thrasymachus. I see no reason to class him among the Professors of Conduct whom we are now considering. Plato does not dismiss him: and though no doubt he might be, in the looser sense in which the term was applied to Gorgias, he does not fall within the class either according to the earlier or to the later of its more limited definitions. He does not define justice as a professed teacher of virtue, but as a rhetorician, possessing the cultivated omniscience to which ancient rhetoricians commonly laid claim, and so able to knock off a definition of Justice, as of anything else. That "Justice is the interest of the stronger" is a plausible cynical paradox which a cultivated person might naturally and prosperously maintain in a casual conversation: but we are not therefore to suppose that Hippias or any other Professor of Conduct would take it as a thesis for a formal lecture on Virtue. Indeed, even if we had not direct evidence to show that their discourses were much more conservative and commonplace, we might have concluded a priori that the Athenian youth would not have thronged to hear, with the simple earnestness described by Plato, such frivolous paradoxes as those thrown out by Thrasymachus.
We may now see with what justice Grote exclaims that the German writers "dress up a fiend which they call 'Sophistik,' " which exists only in their imaginations. Analysing the historical costume of this scarecrow, we find it to consist chiefly of unrelated fragments, illegitimately appropriated and combined. The framework, however, on which these fragments are hung is supplied by the general scheme of development of Greek philosophical thought, which seems to be accepted in Germany. If this framework be left unassailed, it will still be believed that the earliest professional teaching of morality in Greece must have been egoistic and anti-social: although there may be no evidence to prove that it was so.
I shall therefore try to show in a subsequent paper that Grote's view of the teaching of the Sophists is no less strongly supported by general historical considerations than by particular testimonies: and that the adoption of the opposite theory has led Zeller and others into serious misapprehension of the true drift and position of both Socrates and Plato.
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE
Socrates, who is the narrator of the Dialogue to his Companion. Hippocrates, Alcibiades and Critias. Protagoras, Hippias and Prodicus (Sophists). Callias, a wealthy Athenian.
The House of Callias.
COMPANION: Where do you come from, Socrates? And yet I need hardly ask the question, for I know that you have been in chase of the fair Alcibiades. I saw him the day before yesterday; and he had got a beard like a man,—and he is a man, as I may tell you in your ear. But I thought that he was still very charming.
SOCRATES: What of his beard? Are you not of Homer's opinion, who says 'Youth is most charming when the beard first appears'? And that is now the charm of Alcibiades.
COMPANION: Well, and how do matters proceed? Have you been visiting him, and was he gracious to you?
SOCRATES: Yes, I thought that he was very gracious; and especially to-day, for I have just come from him, and he has been helping me in an argument. But shall I tell you a strange thing? I paid no attention to him, and several times I quite forgot that he was present.
COMPANION: What is the meaning of this? Has anything happened between you and him? For surely you cannot have discovered a fairer love than he is; certainly not in this city of Athens.
SOCRATES: Yes, much fairer.
COMPANION: What do you mean—a citizen or a foreigner?
SOCRATES: A foreigner.
COMPANION: Of what country?
SOCRATES: Of Abdera.
COMPANION: And is this stranger really in your opinion a fairer love than the son of Cleinias?
SOCRATES: And is not the wiser always the fairer, sweet friend?