Georgias and Sophists, Gorgias as a SophistJune 27, 2021
Gorgias (483 – 376 BC) is one of the Sophist philosophers who went too far in skepticism.
Gorgias is one of the famous orators of the ancient period and the well-known form is the artist. Plato, in a dialogue bearing his name, presents us Gorgias as the opposite of all kinds of philosophy. According to the narrative, Gorgias had a strangely titled work, “On Nature” or “On Non-existent”. In this work, three fundamental views have been put forward: “There is nothing, we could not know it even if it existed, and even if we knew, we could not convey it to someone else.” As can be seen, one cannot go further than Gorgias to destroy the possibilities of science.
In his first thesis, Gorgias is proponent of the Elea School by saying “there is nothing”. He defends this thesis as follows: If something really existed; this thing would either be boundless, unformed, without beginning and without end; or it would be a limited, formed thing. If we adopt the second option, that is, if we understand the existing as a multiplicity, a limited and formed thing, then the being will always be something other than itself. This brings us to the inextricable difficulties presented by the Eleans. Because in this way, it is necessary to accept that something both exists and does not exist. But the first option; that is, if we find it true that what exists is something that is harmonious, unlimited, that did not exist, then such a being would have to fill all space and time. Something filling space and time would be something divisible, just like space and time. It would no longer be coherent, it would be made of parts. As a result, no matter how we think about the subject, we always have to fall into some contradictions.
The way Gorgias defends these choices shows that he has little to do with sound scientific research. What he does is, rather, playing with concepts. “Is science possible or not?” instead of being researched in a healthy way, the subject is only put into a game state.
Let’s move on to the second option: Even if something existed, we wouldn’t know it. Because we know the universe by two means, that is, either with our perceptions or with our minds. Our perceptions based on our senses cannot lead us to a universal truth, sensations show everyone the universe in a different way. Protagoras has already shown this. As for thinking, which is the function of the mind: It is possible to think of all kinds of things. Just as I can think of a person who never existed, I can also think of a car walking on water. Thinking is a high ability to find what is sought. Thinking cannot give us a precise way of knowing whether what is conceived is true or not. Therefore, our perceptions or our thinking cannot lead us to a truly accepted reality.
Third option: If we knew something, then it wouldn’t be able to communicate it to others, because reporting happens with words. But how do I know what the meaning of a word is that I understand, that others understand? Only I know the meaning I attach to words. How can I know the meaning that others ascribe to words?
Gorgias asks a very important issue here, “How is it that information can be transferred from one person to another?” refers to the subject. This is an issue that really deserves serious consideration. Instead of trying to find a definitive answer to this issue, Gorgias only mentions the difficulty of the issue and glosses over the issue by saying that it is impossible to solve. Gorgias’ work is typical of Sophistic thought. Here, instead of attempts for a rigorous solution of the issue, we witness only the desire to find possibilities and reasons for displaying the rich aspects of intelligence.
It is natural for such works to be criticized by meticulous thinkers. As a matter of fact, we see that an opposition to the philosophy of the Sophists has started in the conservative circles of the Greek cities. These conservative circles are generally against philosophy anyway. The emergence of the sophists strengthened this opposition. Despite all this, the Sophists are of great importance in terms of cultural history. The greatest contribution they have made to the history of culture is that they have studied man and human societies.
The period in which the Sophists lived, i.e. BC. The 5th century is called the Greek Age of Enlightenment. As a matter of fact, XVII-XVIII. We know that a current of thought we encountered especially in Western Europe in the 19th century is called the “Enlightenment”. The characteristic feature of this enlightenment movement in Western Europe is its war against tradition. This movement tried to prove that all religious, moral, political and social customs are the work of man. This is the aim of the Sophists. They also believe that all customs are man-made. In this regard, Sophists paid special attention to emphasizing a difference: What are the actions of man and nature in social institutions? For example, which side of the rules of our moral and legal laws is the work of man and which side is the work of nature? Which thoughts on this and similar issues are natural and which are created by humans? After such distinctions, it is accepted that something made by humans can be changed by humans. In this respect, sophists are innovative. For this reason, there is a lot of talk about Greek intellectuals.