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Sophist – Plato
physics will greatly prefer the earlier dialogues to the later ones. Plato is conscious of the change, and in the Statesman expressly accuses himself of a tediousness in the two dialogues, which he by
ascribes to his desire of developing the dialectical method. On the other hand, the kindred spirit Plato
of Hegel seemed to find in the Sophist the crown and summit of the Platonic philosophy—here is the place at which Plato most nearly approaches Translated by Benjamin Jowett to the Hegelian identity of Being and Not-being.
Nor will the great importance of the two dialogues be doubted by any one who forms a con-INTRODUCTION AND ANALYSIS
ception of the state of mind and opinion which they are intended to meet. The sophisms of the THE DRAMATIC POWER of the dialogues of Plato ap-day were undermining philosophy; the denial of pears to diminish as the metaphysical interest the existence of Not-being, and of the connexion of them increases (compare Introd. to the of ideas, was making truth and falsehood equally Philebus). There are no descriptions of time, impossible. It has been said that Plato would have place or persons, in the Sophist and Statesman, written differently, if he had been acquainted but we are plunged at once into philosophical with the Organon of Aristotle. But could the Or-discussions; the poetical charm has disappeared, ganon of Aristotle ever have been written un-and those who have no taste for abstruse meta-3
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less the Sophist and Statesman had preceded?
There is little worthy of remark in the charac-The swarm of fallacies which arose in the infancy ters of the Sophist. The most noticeable point is of mental science, and which was born and bred the final retirement of Socrates from the field of in the decay of the pre-Socratic philosophies, was argument, and the substitution for him of an not dispelled by Aristotle, but by Socrates and Eleatic stranger, who is described as a pupil of Plato. The summa genera of thought, the nature Parmenides and Zeno, and is supposed to have of the proposition, of definition, of generaliza-descended from a higher world in order to con-tion, of synthesis and analysis, of division and vict the Socratic circle of error. As in the Timaeus, cross-division, are clearly described, and the pro-Plato seems to intimate by the withdrawal of cesses of induction and deduction are constantly Socrates that he is passing beyond the limits of employed in the dialogues of Plato. The ‘slip-his teaching; and in the Sophist and Statesman, pery’ nature of comparison, the danger of putas well as in the Parmenides, he probably means ting words in the place of things, the fallacy of to imply that he is making a closer approach to arguing ‘a dicto secundum,’ and in a circle, are the schools of Elea and Megara. He had much in frequently indicated by him. To all these pro-common with them, but he must first submit cesses of truth and error, Aristotle, in the next their ideas to criticism and revision. He had once generation, gave distinctness; he brought them thought as he says, speaking by the mouth of together in a separate science. But he is not to the Eleatic, that he understood their doctrine of be regarded as the original inventor of any of Not-being; but now he does not even compre-the great logical forms, with the exception of hend the nature of Being. The friends of ideas the syllogism.
(Soph.) are alluded to by him as distant acquain-4
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tances, whom he criticizes ab extra; we do not reminding us of his presence, at the commence-recognize at first sight that he is criticizing him-ment, by a characteristic jest about the statesman self. The character of the Eleatic stranger is and the philosopher, and by an allusion to his name-colourless; he is to a certain extent the reflec-sake, with whom on that ground he claims relation of his father and master, Parmenides, who tionship, as he had already claimed an affinity with is the protagonist in the dialogue which is called Theaetetus, grounded on the likeness of his ugly by his name. Theaetetus himself is not distin-face. But in neither dialogue, any more than in the guished by the remarkable traits which are at-Timaeus, does he offer any criticism on the views tributed to him in the preceding dialogue. He is which are propounded by another.
no longer under the spell of Socrates, or subject The style, though wanting in dramatic power,—
to the operation of his midwifery, though the fic-in this respect resembling the Philebus and the tion of question and answer is still maintained, Laws,—is very clear and accurate, and has sev-and the necessity of taking Theaetetus along eral touches of humour and satire. The language with him is several times insisted upon by his is less fanciful and imaginative than that of the partner in the discussion. There is a reminiscence earlier dialogues; and there is more of bitterness, of the old Theaetetus in his remark that he will as in the Laws, though traces of a similar tem-not tire of the argument, and in his conviction, per may also be observed in the description of which the Eleatic thinks likely to be permanent, the ‘great brute’ in the Republic, and in the that the course of events is governed by the will contrast of the lawyer and philosopher in the of God. Throughout the two dialogues Socrates Theaetetus. The following are characteristic pas-continues a silent auditor, in the Statesman just sages: ‘The ancient philosophers, of whom we 5
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may say, without offence, that they went on their of language. But the equably diffused grace is way rather regardless of whether we understood gone; instead of the endless variety of the early them or not;’ the picture of the materialists, or dialogues, traces of the rhythmical monotonous earth-born giants, ‘who grasped oaks and rocks cadence of the Laws begin to appear; and already in their hands,’ and who must be improved be-an approach is made to the technical language fore they can be reasoned with; and the equally of Aristotle, in the frequent use of the words ‘es-humourous delineation of the friends of ideas, s e n c e , ’ ‘ p o w e r, ’ ‘ g e n e r a t i o n , ’ ‘ m o t i o n , ’
who defend themselves from a fastness in the
‘rest,’ ‘action,’ ‘passion,’ and the like.
invisible world; or the comparison of the Soph-The Sophist, like the Phaedrus, has a double ist to a painter or maker (compare Republic), character, and unites two enquirers, which are and the hunt after him in the rich meadow-lands only in a somewhat forced manner connected of youth and wealth; or, again, the light and with each other. The first is the search after the graceful touch with which the older philosophies Sophist, the second is the enquiry into the na-are painted (‘Ionian and Sicilian muses’), the ture of Not-being, which occupies the middle part comparison of them to mythological tales, and of the work. For ‘Not-being’ is the hole or divi-the fear of the Eleatic that he will be counted a sion of the dialectical net in which the Sophist parricide if he ventures to lay hands on his fa-has hidden himself. He is the imaginary imper-ther Parmenides; or, once more, the likening of sonation of false opinion. Yet he denies the possi-the Eleatic stranger to a god from heaven.—All bility of false opinion; for falsehood is that which these passages, notwithstanding the decline of is not, and therefore has no existence. At length the style, retain the impress of the great master the difficulty is solved; the answer, in the lan-6
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guage of the Republic, appears ‘tumbling out of esprits-faux, the hireling who is not a teacher, at our feet.’ Acknowledging that there is a com-and who, from whatever point of view he is re-munion of kinds with kinds, and not merely one garded, is the opposite of the true teacher. He is Being or Good having different names, or sev-the ‘evil one,’ the ideal representative of all that eral isolated ideas or classes incapable of com-Plato most disliked in the moral and intellectual munion, we discover ‘Not-being’ to be the other tendencies of his own age; the adversary of the of ‘Being.’Transferring this to language and almost equally ideal Socrates. He seems to be thought, we have no difficulty in apprehending always growing in the fancy of Plato, now boast-that a proposition may be false as well as true.
ful, now eristic, now clothing himself in rags of The Sophist, drawn out of the shelter which philosophy, now more akin to the rhetorician or Cynic and Megarian paradoxes have temporarily lawyer, now haranguing, now questioning, until afforded him, is proved to be a dissembler and the final appearance in the Politicus of his de-juggler with words.
parting shadow in the disguise of a statesman.
The chief points of interest in the dialogue are: We are not to suppose that Plato intended by (I) the character attributed to the Sophist: (II) such a description to depict Protagoras or the dialectical method: (III) the nature of the Gorgias, or even Thrasymachus, who all turn out puzzle about ‘Not-being:’ (IV) the battle of the to be ‘very good sort of people when we know philosophers: (V) the relation of the Sophist to them,’ and all of them part on good terms with other dialogues.
Socrates. But he is speaking of a being as imagi-I. The Sophist in Plato is the master of the art nary as the wise man of the Stoics, and whose of illusion; the charlatan, the foreigner, the prince character varies in different dialogues. Like my-7
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thology, Greek philosophy has a tendency to per-above them. There is another point of view in sonify ideas. And the Sophist is not merely a which this passage should also be considered.
teacher of rhetoric for a fee of one or fifty The great enemy of Plato is the world, not ex-drachmae (Crat.), but an ideal of Plato’s in actly in the theological sense, yet in one not which the falsehood of all mankind is reflected.
wholly different—the world as the hater of truth A milder tone is adopted towards the Sophists and lover of appearance, occupied in the pursuit in a well-known passage of the Republic, where of gain and pleasure rather than of knowledge, they are described as the followers rather than banded together against the few good and wise the leaders of the rest of mankind. Plato ridicules men, and devoid of true education. This creature the notion that any individuals can corrupt youth has many heads: rhetoricians, lawyers, states-to a degree worth speaking of in comparison with men, poets, sophists. But the Sophist is the Pro-the greater influence of public opinion. But there teus who takes the likeness of all of them; all is no real inconsistency between this and other other deceivers have a piece of him in them. And descriptions of the Sophist which occur in the sometimes he is represented as the corrupter of Platonic writings. For Plato is not justifying the the world; and sometimes the world as the cor-Sophists in the passage just quoted, but only rep-rupter of him and of itself.
resenting their power to be contemptible; they Of late years the Sophists have found an en-are to be despised rather than feared, and are thusiastic defender in the distinguished histo-no worse than the rest of mankind. But a teacher rian of Greece. He appears to maintain (1) that or statesman may be justly condemned, who is the term ‘Sophist’ is not the name of a particu-on a level with mankind when he ought to be lar class, and would have been applied indiffer-8
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ently to Socrates and Plato, as well as to Gorgias in a similar field: jesuits, puritans, methodists, and Protagoras; (2) that the bad sense was im-and the like. Sometimes the meaning is both printed on the word by the genius of Plato; (3) narrowed and enlarged; and a good or bad sense that the principal Sophists were not the corrupt-will subsist side by side with a neutral one. A ers of youth (for the Athenian youth were no more curious effect is produced on the meaning of a corrupted in the age of Demosthenes than in the word when the very term which is stigmatized age of Pericles), but honourable and estimable by the world (e.g. Methodists) is adopted by the persons, who supplied a training in literature which obnoxious or derided class; this tends to define was generally wanted at the time. We will briefly the meaning. Or, again, the opposite result is consider how far these statements appear to be produced, when the world refuses to allow some justified by facts: and, 1, about the meaning of the sect or body of men the possession of an word there arises an interesting question:—
honourable name which they have assumed, or Many words are used both in a general and a applies it to them only in mockery or irony.
specific sense, and the two senses are not always The term ‘Sophist’ is one of those words of clearly distinguished. Sometimes the generic which the meaning has been both contracted and meaning has been narrowed to the specific, while enlarged. Passages may be quoted from in other cases the specific meaning has been Herodotus and the tragedians, in which the word enlarged or altered. Examples of the former class is used in a neutral sense for a contriver or de-are furnished by some ecclesiastical terms: viser or inventor, without including any ethical apostles, prophets, bishops, elders, catholics.
idea of goodness or badness. Poets as well as Examples of the latter class may also be found philosophers were called Sophists in the fifth 9
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century before Christ. In Plato himself the term is not also a specific bad sense in which the term is applied in the sense of a ‘master in art,’ withis applied to certain contemporaries of Socrates.
out any bad meaning attaching to it (Symp.; Would an Athenian, as Mr. Grote supposes, in Meno). In the later Greek, again, ‘sophist’ and the fifth century before Christ, have included
‘philosopher’ became almost indistinguishable.
Socrates and Plato, as well as Gorgias and There was no reproach conveyed by the word; Protagoras, under the specific class of Sophists?
the additional association, if any, was only that To this question we must answer, No: if ever the of rhetorician or teacher. Philosophy had become term is applied to Socrates and Plato, either the eclecticism and imitation: in the decline of Greek application is made by an enemy out of mere thought there was no original voice lifted up spite, or the sense in which it is used is neutral.
‘which reached to a thousand years because of Plato, Xenophon, Isocrates, Aristotle, all give a the god.’ Hence the two words, like the charac-bad import to the word; and the Sophists are ters represented by them, tended to pass into regarded as a separate class in all of them. And one another. Yet even here some differences ap-in later Greek literature, the distinction is quite peared; for the term ‘Sophist’ would hardly marked between the succession of philosophers have been applied to the greater names, such as from Thales to Aristotle, and the Sophists of the Plotinus, and would have been more often used age of Socrates, who appeared like meteors for a of a professor of philosophy in general than of a short time in different parts of Greece. For the maintainer of particular tenets.
purposes of comedy, Socrates may have been But the real question is, not whether the word identified with the Sophists, and he seems to
‘Sophist’ has all these senses, but whether there complain of this in the Apology. But there is no 10
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reason to suppose that Socrates, differing by so the young Hippocrates, when with a blush upon many outward marks, would really have been his face which is just seen by the light of dawn confounded in the mind of Anytus, or Callicles, he admits that he is going to be made ‘a Soph-or of any intelligent Athenian, with the splen-ist,’ would lose their point, unless the term had did foreigners who from time to time visited Ath-been discredited. There is nothing surprising in ens, or appeared at the Olympic games. The man the Sophists having an evil name; that, whether of genius, the great original thinker, the disin-deserved or not, was a natural consequence of terested seeker after truth, the master of repar-their vocation. That they were foreigners, that tee whom no one ever defeated in an argument, they made fortunes, that they taught novelties, was separated, even in the mind of the vulgar that they excited the minds of youth, are quite Athenian, by an ‘interval which no geometry sufficient reasons to account for the opprobrium can express,’ from the balancer of sentences, which attached to them. The genius of Plato the interpreter and reciter of the poets, the di-could not have stamped the word anew, or have vider of the meanings of words, the teacher of imparted the associations which occur in con-rhetoric, the professor of morals and manners.
temporary writers, such as Xenophon and 2. The use of the term ‘Sophist’ in the dia-Isocrates. Changes in the meaning of words can logues of Plato also shows that the bad sense only be made with great difficulty, and not un-was not affixed by his genius, but already cur-less they are supported by a strong current of rent. When Protagoras says, ‘I confess that I am popular feeling. There is nothing improbable in a Sophist,’ he implies that the art which he pro-supposing that Plato may have extended and fesses has already a bad name; and the words of envenomed the meaning, or that he may have 11
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done the Sophists the same kind of disservice no reason to suspect any greater moral corrup-with posterity which Pascal did to the Jesuits.
tion in the age of Demosthenes than in the age But the bad sense of the word was not and could of Pericles. The Athenian youth were not cor-not have been invented by him, and is found in rupted in this sense, and therefore the Sophists his earlier dialogues, e.g. the Protagoras, as well could not have corrupted them. It is remarkable, as in the later.
and may be fairly set down to their credit, that 3. There is no ground for disbelieving that the Plato nowhere attributes to them that peculiar principal Sophists, Gorgias, Protagoras, Prodicus, Greek sympathy with youth, which he ascribes Hippias, were good and honourable men. The to Parmenides, and which was evidently com-notion that they were corrupters of the Athe-mon in the Socratic circle. Plato delights to ex-nian youth has no real foundation, and partly hibit them in a ludicrous point of view, and to arises out of the use of the term ‘Sophist’ in show them always rather at a disadvantage in modern times. The truth is, that we know little the company of Socrates. But he has no quarrel about them; and the witness of Plato in their with their characters, and does not deny that favour is probably not much more historical than they are respectable men.
his witness against them. Of that national de-The Sophist, in the dialogue which is called af-cline of genius, unity, political force, which has ter him, is exhibited in many different lights, been sometimes described as the corruption of and appears and reappears in a variety of forms.
youth, the Sophists were one among many There is some want of the higher Platonic art in signs;—in these respects Athens may have de-the Eleatic Stranger eliciting his true character generated; but, as Mr. Grote remarks, there is by a labourious process of enquiry, when he had 12
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already admitted that he knew quite well the trader, and his wares are either imported or difference between the Sophist and the Philoso-home-made, like those of other retail traders; his pher, and had often heard the question dis-art is thus deprived of the character of a liberal cussed;—such an anticipation would hardly have profession. But the most distinguishing charac-occurred in the earlier dialogues. But Plato could teristic of him is, that he is a disputant, and not altogether give up his Socratic method, of higgles over an argument. A feature of the Eristic which another trace may be thought to be dis-here seems to blend with Plato’s usual descrip-cerned in his adoption of a common instance tion of the Sophists, who in the early dialogues, before he proceeds to the greater matter in hand.
and in the Republic, are frequently depicted as Yet the example is also chosen in order to dam-endeavouring to save themselves from disput-age the ‘hooker of men’ as much as possible; ing with Socrates by making long orations. In each step in the pedigree of the angler suggests this character he parts company from the vain some injurious reflection about the Sophist. They and impertinent talker in private life, who is a are both hunters after a living prey, nearly re-loser of money, while he is a maker of it.
lated to tyrants and thieves, and the Sophist is But there is another general division under the cousin of the parasite and flatterer. The ef-which his art may be also supposed to fall, and fect of this is heightened by the accidental man-that is purification; and from purification is dener in which the discovery is made, as the result scended education, and the new principle of edu-of a scientific division. His descent in another cation is to interrogate men after the manner of branch affords the opportunity of more Socrates, and make them teach themselves. Here
‘unsavoury comparisons.’ For he is a retail again we catch a glimpse rather of a Socratic or 13
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Eristic than of a Sophist in the ordinary sense of dure of the mind by which scientific truth is de-the term. And Plato does not on this ground retected and verified. Plato himself seems to be ject the claim of the Sophist to be the true phi-aware that mere division is an unsafe and uncer-losopher. One more feature of the Eristic rather tain weapon, first, in the Statesman, when he than of the Sophist is the tendency of the trouble-says that we should divide in the middle, for in some animal to run away into the darkness of that way we are more likely to attain species; Not-being. Upon the whole, we detect in him a secondly, in the parallel precept of the Philebus, sort of hybrid or double nature, of which, except that we should not pass from the most general perhaps in the Euthydemus of Plato, we find no notions to infinity, but include all the interven-other trace in Greek philosophy; he combines the ing middle principles, until, as he also says in teacher of virtue with the Eristic; while in his the Statesman, we arrive at the infima species; omniscience, in his ignorance of himself, in his thirdly, in the Phaedrus, when he says that the arts of deception, and in his lawyer-like habit of dialectician will carve the limbs of truth with-writing and speaking about all things, he is still out mangling them; and once more in the States-the antithesis of Socrates and of the true teacher.
man, if we cannot bisect species, we must carve II. The question has been asked, whether the them as well as we can. No better image of na-method of ‘abscissio infinti,’ by which the Soph-ture or truth, as an organic whole, can be con-ist is taken, is a real and valuable logical pro-ceived than this. So far is Plato from supposing cess. Modern science feels that this, like other that mere division and subdivision of general processes of formal logic, presents a very inad-notions will guide men into all truth.
equate conception of the actual complex proce-Plato does not really mean to say that the Soph-14
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ist or the Statesman can be caught in this way.
tion in Plato. But neither is there any reason to But these divisions and subdivisions were think, even if the reflection had occurred to him, favourite logical exercises of the age in which that he would have been deterred from carrying he lived; and while indulging his dialectical fancy, on the war with weapons fair or unfair against and making a contribution to logical method, he the outlaw Sophist.
delights also to transfix the Eristic Sophist with III. The puzzle about ‘Not-being’ appears to weapons borrowed from his own armoury. As we us to be one of the most unreal difficulties of have already seen, the division gives him the ancient philosophy. We cannot understand the opportunity of making the most damaging re-attitude of mind which could imagine that false-flections on the Sophist and all his kith and kin, hood had no existence, if reality was denied to and to exhibit him in the most discreditable light.
Not-being: How could such a question arise at Nor need we seriously consider whether Plato all, much less become of serious importance? The was right in assuming that an animal so various answer to this, and to nearly all other difficul-could not be confined within the limits of a single ties of early Greek philosophy, is to be sought for definition. In the infancy of logic, men sought in the history of ideas, and the answer is only only to obtain a definition of an unknown or unsatisfactory because our knowledge is defec-uncertain term; the after reflection scarcely octive. In the passage from the world of sense and curred to them that the word might have sev-imagination and common language to that of eral senses, which shaded off into one another, opinion and reflection the human mind was ex-and were not capable of being comprehended in posed to many dangers, and often a single notion. There is no trace of this reflec-
‘Found no end in wandering mazes lost.’