Ancient Greek Philosophers - Pre-Socratic Philosophy - Sophistry


Sophistry arose from the opposition between physis and nomos, between nature and law. John Burnet traced the origin of this opposition to the scientific progress of the previous centuries which suggested that Being was radically different from what was experienced by the senses and, if comprehensible at all, was not comprehensible in terms of order; the world in which men lived, on the other hand, was one of law and order, albeit of humankind's own making. At the same time, nature stayed the same, while what was by law could be changed and differed from one place to another.

The first man to call himself a sophist, according to Plato, was Protagoras, whom he presents as teaching that all virtue is conventional. It was Protagoras who claimed that "man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not," which Plato takes to indicate a radical perspectivalism, where some things seem to be one way for one person (and so actually are that way) and to be another way to another person (and so actually are that way); consequently, one cannot in any way look to nature for guidance regarding how to live one's life.

Subsequent sophists tended to offer to teach rhetoric as their primary vocation, as did Protagoras. Prodicus, Gorgias, Hippias, and Thrasymachus all appear in various Platonic dialogues, sometimes explicitly teaching that, while nature provides no ethical guidance, the guidance that the laws provide is worthless, or that nature favors those who act against the laws.

Read more about this topic:  Ancient Greek Philosophers, Pre-Socratic Philosophy

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