Who are Sophists, What is Sophism?

Who are Sophists, What is Sophism?

December 26, 2019 0 By Felso

Sophists, BC In the 5th century, they were philosophers who taught philosophy for money. Sophists have been written in history as thinkers who laid the foundations of relative and skeptical thought and developed these views.

As the etymological origin, the   word ‘sophist’  comes from the sophistes derived from the Greek word  ‘ sophos  (wise, resourceful, intelligent)  and is used to refer to those who have learned and taught their profession. The social changes and political developments of the period led the sophists to be highly influential. Among the reasons for the emergence of sophism, the practical need of Athens democracy for an entirely new kind of education, pedagogy, was decisive. Sophists are also  the creators of what would be called ‘Greek Enlightenment’ in a sense  .

Although the first Sophists have a great respect in society, when we say sof sophist inde in the history of philosophy, it comes to mind with a negative meaning. This meaning stems from the struggle of Plato ,  Socrates and  Aristotle against Sophists, which were the most important philosophers of the period  . Sophists were constantly criticized and humiliated by these thinkers. Sophist lectures for money were often heavily at that time. Nevertheless, in the history of philosophy, sophists have had significant influences on the question of whether virtue is taught or not, as well as asking very important questions or developing new approaches.

In the early Greek world, the term ‘sophist’ was used in the early period for poets who were competent in their fields, as well as for scholars and thinkers placed in a prestigious position in society such as Thales, Bias, Solon. In contrast to this use, the sophistication was also used, especially in the late period, for talented teachers who began to lose social respectability in the writings of some playwrights and Plato. For the sailor, seer, or sculptor, this word was also used to emphasize their competence in their fields in terms of superiority in doing a particular job. There are several examples that these people are considered masters in their work.

Conditions for the emergence of Sophists in the ancient Greek world

In addition to the prominent ‘Sophists’ during the Plato era, the Seven Sages, to whom Thales was most famous, were known as sophists  . The different teaching and speaking styles, as well as the subjects taught by the sophists, were not all the same. If the subjects of astronomy, mathematics and music of these Sophist classes were taken aside, it was the knowledge of making and speaking effectively in Athens, where the whole life was based on politics, and needed to be used in public assemblies and courts.

The cultural background of the Sophists, as well as the background of philosophy, should be addressed. Those who could be considered as the background of the Sophists’ philosophy,  Xenophanes  and  Heraclitus‘kind. It is understood that these people, who seem to specialize in certain subjects, travel the cities in order to give lessons and do not stay in the cities where they were born, nor do they settle in a certain city for a long time. Looking at the history of philosophy, Xenophanes can be regarded as the initiator of relativistic understandings, which have deeply influenced the sophists. There is an understanding that can be initiated with Xenophanes, which transcends human senses and experiences, and that there is a reality independent of human knowledge, but that one cannot reach the knowledge of that reality.

Sophists’ views on knowledge

The characteristic of Sophists ‘ understanding of knowledge is  embodied in Protagoras ‘ saying that ” Man is the measure of everything .” According to this understanding, there is no truth. Every subject in which man is involved is relatively relative, open to development and change. Human acquires knowledge through experience and experience, and essentially all know, experience is limited and cooperative with the mind. According to them, there is no truth that can be reached by senses or reason, and ultimately the measure of knowledge,  praxisis the success of the application. The application of this understanding to the social sphere has brought about a relativity in the political, social and cultural sphere. There is one question that can be asked to this approach, where relativity prevails; how would these relative approaches be preferred? There are two aspects to the answer to the question. The first part is that information can bring solutions to practical problems, and the second is that it can convince people to whom the solution is presented. So, it can be said that Sophists are not interested in the problem of truth or inaccuracy in information.

The main lines of philosophy of the main Sophists

According to Protagoras, everyone can be educated to a certain extent. Protagoras states that it is possible for every human being to learn about virtue-related matters, since virtue is something that everyone can achieve to a certain extent. In response to Socrates’ assertion that Protagoras is the person who knows and teaches virtue as to whether political knowledge can be taught, Protagoras implies that he does not have precise and final knowledge on this subject. Gorgiascan be evaluated under two headings. First, there is nothing; though unknown; they are expressed as non-transferable. The second is about language and communication in relation to the last part of these views. According to Gorgias, nothing exists. He states that even if anything exists, it cannot be known. Because to think according to him, is to think of the concepts in the mind. If not, then the truth is unthinkable. Even if a person knows something, he cannot transmit it to another person. Because data about an object is acquired through the eye or ear, but we are trying to express the data we obtain about it in words that are different from the ways in which we obtain the data. But since language is different from both, it cannot represent them correctly.

People cannot remember exactly what happened in the past, they cannot know enough about what is happening now, and they cannot make certain predictions by the nature of human knowledge about what will happen in the future. These limitations of human knowledge lead to an environment of uncertainty and thus insecurity that people will constantly try to overcome. Another sophist,  Hippias , was one of the first to say that there was a natural equality and kinship between people. Antiphon  advocated a similar view to world citizenship. According to him, people should behave according to the law when they are in the public environment. However, when one is alone, that is, not under the power and sovereignty of the law, he must act according to the requirements of his own nature.

Thrasymakhos, on the  other hand, is one of the sophists who emphasized the contradiction of Nature-Law. According to him, the inequality between people is natural and should govern what is weak by nature. Kallikles  agrees. According to him, people exalt many things that are cowardly against their nature. What is beautiful and true for human beings is to grow their ambitions as much as possible and to live without obstructing any of them. According to Lykhophron , if the contrary is claimed by law, it is good to be unfair to others and to be unfair if it is nature. Finally, Kritias argues that religious and divine subjects were invented by intelligent people to make people obey the law.

Prepared by:  Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source:  Ömer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Department of Sociology 1st Grade Giriş Introduction to Philosophy ”and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade Tarihi History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook