Archive for the reply Category

A “Sophistic” Refutation

Posted in definitions, Detienne, MM, Plato, reply, sophists, Sprague on January 14, 2008 by untimelymediations

In reply to Lacey’s post below, a counter-post: I’ll follow up with the post on week 2 readings later in the week.

Interdisciplinary is indeed a tidy way of describing the sophists, but I not completely convinced this definition is ultimately fitting.

I want to stress that I’m also not confident that interdisciplinary is the best word for describing sophistic practice; in fact, what might be an interesting point of discussion is the very concept of disciplinarity as it relates to sophistic work.  To the extent that the sophists’ primary legacy (per Detienne) was the desacralization and commodification of speech/rhetoric, we might look to the sophists as the first practitioners of disciplinarity (and we might note further, in Jaeger 316, the sophistic influence on the Trivium and Quadrivium, later to be called the Seven Liberal Arts).  This would, in part, help illuminate the later objections to the sophists as seen in Plato and others (in Sprague). If Platonic philosophy was the next step in disciplinarity, i..e. the next move in distinguishing one body of discursive practice from another, the objections voiced by Socrates begin to make more sense; the sophists would then represent a far less defined sense of disciplinary work, an evolutionary throwback, so to speak, that lingered as a distinct rebuke to Socrates’s and Plato’s further refinement of philosophic practice.

Sophists are, then, people who have moderately advanced knowledge about many topics because they know where /how to find and apply it.sophists are, then, people who have moderately advanced knowledge about many topics because they know where /how to find and apply it.

Or, as Socrates might have it in the Gorgias, know-nothing gadflies who use puffed-up prose who appear to know it all.

If we are dazzling someone with our rhetoric, are we not ‘tricking’ him or her into something they did not previously believe?

I think this too is something Socrates is on about in the Gorgias.  (I have read the two assigned dialogues, but my 1020 just did Gorgias so it’s fresh in my mind.)  I don’t think Socrates would disallow the idea of persuasion, but when aligned with truth, knowledge, wisdom, justice–all the stuff Socrates is always harping about–is it “persuasion” or “learning?”  Socrates at one point argues that

the rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who know

So we might make the distinction btw just and unjust persuasion, where, if we agree with Socrates, “just persuasion” is better understood as learning.

Food for thought. See all tomorrow.