Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy

A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787). This special issue belongs to the section "Philosophy and Classics in the Humanities".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2022) | Viewed by 24937

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Guest Editor
Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada
Interests: rhetoric; sophistics; history of philosophy; literature; media

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to invite you to consider submitting an original, unpublished essay for a Special Issue of Humanities devoted to the topic of ancient Greek sophistry and its legacy.

For all their veneration of logos and persuasive speech, the ancient Greeks also experienced a fear of discourse and its power to produce effects in the soul and the world. This logophobie, as Michel Foucault calls it, was associated above all with the figure of the sophist, thanks in part to the polemical efforts of Aristophanes, Plato, and Aristotle to expel the sophists from the order of reasonable, ethical discourse. In Clouds, for example, Aristophanes purges the sophists in the crucible of his comic satire to conserve traditional Athenian pieties (“Burn down the Thinkery! Smoke out the charlatans! Incinerate the fakes!”), while in Gorgias Plato initiates the war between philosophy and sophistry (“polemon” is its first word) with an attack on sophistic thought that has repercussions even today: the art of sophistics (sophistike) is flattery, deception, cosmetology, captious reasoning, phantom wisdom, empty verbiage, cookery in the soul, and demagoguery. In a sense, Plato and Aristotle create the discipline of philosophy by negating sophistry, conjuring the figure of the sophist as its fictionalized Other or “counter-essence” (Gegenwesen (Martin Heidegger)). “We have found the philosopher,” exclaims Theaetetus, “while we were looking for the sophist” (Plato, Sophist). It is this baleful image of the sophist as the daemonic double of the philosopher—not to mention wolf, magician, hoplite, hydra, quack, buffoon, quibbler, pugilist, word merchant, imposter, pastry cook, know-it-all, scenographer, choplogic, skeptic, nihilist, atheist, tyrant, “disgusting fib-fabulator” (Aristophanes), etc.—that has persisted in European philosophy, literature, and culture from ancient Greece to the present day.

In light of this diatribe against sophistics, one of the most remarkable trends in humanities in recent years has been the resurgence of scholarly interest in the ancient Greek sophists and their Nachleben in Western culture. While it is too much to say, with Stanley Fish, that modernity is “old sophism writ analytic” (Doing What Comes Naturally), modernity has indeed witnessed a reactivation of sophistic thought that challenges orthodox accounts of the sophistic movement and its significance. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, writing in the wake of the Kantian demolition of metaphysics, was one of the first to recognize the uncanny presence of ancient Greek sophistics in modern continental philosophy: "Sophistry does not lie so far from us as we think" (Lectures on the History of Philosophy). Friedrich Nietzsche, a philologist alert to the untimely aspects of ancient Greek thought, also notes the affinities between modernity and antiquity (“epoch of the sophists—our epoch”) and contends that “every advance in moral and epistemological knowledge has reinstated [restituirt] the sophists”(Nachlass). More recently, new methods of textual and historical interpretation—from feminism and semiotics to psychoanalysis and New Historicism—have invigorated the study of the sophists by advancing novel readings of sophistic texts and the history of their reception. At the same time, new approaches to rhetorical theory have expanded the field of sophistic practice to embrace everything from the sophistic logic operating in dreams and unconscious desire (Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan) to the sophistic components of malevolent artificial intelligence systems and mendacity machines (Micah Clark, Frederico Pistono).

Given this resurgence of interest in sophistics in modern and contemporary thought, this Special Issue of Humanities seeks to reassess the phenomenon of ancient Greek sophistry and its legacy, both as a historical reality (sophistic doctrine and practice) and as a literary and philosophical fiction (the sophist as personnage conceptuel (Gilles Deleuze)). To capture the complex, protean nature of sophists, sophistry, and sophistics, I welcome essays of 6000–7000 words that advance new arguments about any aspect of ancient Greek sophistics and its afterlife in any discipline, historical period, or field of social practice. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • readings of the ancient Greek sophists (Protagoras, Gorgias, Antiphon, Prodicus, etc.)
  • sophistics and the history of philosophy, from the “Presocratics” to the present
  • sophistics and drama (comedy, tragedy, history, etc.)
  • sophistics and literature (epic, novel, romance, satire, etc.)
  • sophistics and law, politics, and historiography
  • readings of the Greco-Latin sophists (Aelius Aristides, Philostratus, etc.)
  • imperial sophistics and the Second Sophistic
  • sophistics and declamation
  • sophistics and art, aesthetics, and art history
  • the legacy of the sophists in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
  • sophistics and Neoplatonism (Marsilio Ficino, Pico Della Mirandola, etc.)
  • sophistics and magic, sorcery, and witchcraft
  • comparative or cross-cultural sophistics
  • sophistics and psychoanalysis
  • sophistics and deconstruction
  • sophistics, gender, and feminism
  • new modes of sophistical practice
  • sophistics and marketing
  • digital sophistics (trolling, flaming, doxxing, fake news, etc.)

All suitable essays will undergo double-blind peer review. For submission information, please see below. For all inquiries about Humanities and the MDPI publishing model, please refer to the journal’s website (https://www.mdpi.com/journal/humanities) or the MDPI website (https://www.mdpi.com).

Dr. Michael MacDonald
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Humanities is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • sophist
  • sophistry
  • sophistics
  • philosophy
  • literature
  • drama
  • law
  • politics

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

12 pages, 761 KiB  
Article
The Ancient Greek Sophists in Emanuele Tesauro’s Il cannocchiale aristotelico (1670): Thrasymachus and Gorgias
by Teodoro Katinis
Humanities 2024, 13(1), 33; https://doi.org/10.3390/h13010033 - 01 Feb 2024
Viewed by 1552
Abstract
Emanuele Tesauro’s Il cannocchiale aristotelico (The Spyglass of Aristotle) is widely considered a masterpiece of the Baroque, mainly because of his theory of metaphor as a cognitive tool. But this work is much more than that. Tesauro presents his volume as [...] Read more.
Emanuele Tesauro’s Il cannocchiale aristotelico (The Spyglass of Aristotle) is widely considered a masterpiece of the Baroque, mainly because of his theory of metaphor as a cognitive tool. But this work is much more than that. Tesauro presents his volume as the ultimate interpretation of Aristotle’s rhetorical art, which is clearly not the case. Indeed, his work is a polycentric discourse on a revolutionary theory of rhetoric that goes beyond any previous treatise written on the subject, including Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Despite his relevance in the history of rhetorical theories, Tesauro’s work is still waiting for a comprehensive study of its own as well as investigations of some of its specific aspects. Furthermore, the majority of the existing studies of Tesauro are in Italian (with only very few in English), which makes it difficult for this text to reach an international public. This essay explores what seems to be a specific aspect that has so far been almost completely neglected: the role played by the ancient sophists in the Cannocchiale aristotelico and in the history of rhetoric that Tesauro redesigns. Tesauro proclaims his fidelity to Aristotle but actually contradicts Aristotle’s anti-sophistic approach. During this analysis, we will discover even more about Tesauro’s pro-sophistic attitude: he grounds the climax of Latin rhetorical tradition in Greek sophistry. This positive assessment of the ancient sophists, especially Thrasymachus and Gorgias of Leontini, coexists with a critique of Socrates. Except for Sperone Speroni, no other early modern Italian author—or European author—has proposed this radical inversion of the canon established by Plato. This reversal makes Tesauro a relevant case study in the on-going exploration of the legacy of ancient sophists in Western literature. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
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21 pages, 341 KiB  
Article
Antilogies in Ancient Athens: An Inventory and Appraisal
by Livio Rossetti
Humanities 2023, 12(5), 106; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12050106 - 25 Sep 2023
Viewed by 1020
Abstract
Antilogies, or pairs of symmetrically opposed speeches or arguments, were generally ignored by Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle, Cicero, and Diogenes Laertius, and, later, by Eduard Norden, Hermann Diels, and most modern scholars of antiquity. As a consequence, until the end of the twentieth century [...] Read more.
Antilogies, or pairs of symmetrically opposed speeches or arguments, were generally ignored by Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle, Cicero, and Diogenes Laertius, and, later, by Eduard Norden, Hermann Diels, and most modern scholars of antiquity. As a consequence, until the end of the twentieth century CE, antilogies have been ignored or, at best, treated as a minor literary device to be mentioned only with reference to individual writings. Nevertheless, during the second half of the fifth century, antilogies were a crucially important form of argument and persuasion in ‘sophistic’ thought, philosophy, historiography, comedy and tragedy, and other fields. In order to redress the historical neglect of the art of antilogy, this essay provides an inventory (doubtless incomplete) of some 30 antilogies composed by playwrights such as Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, historians such as Herodotus and Thucydides, and, most importantly, ‘sophists’ such as Protagoras, Gorgias, Prodicus and Antiphon (in addition to a few other writers of the same period). Building on this inventory, the second part of the essay seeks to establish identifying features of antilogy and assess its cultural significance in the Athenian context (in the second half of the fifth century BCE). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
22 pages, 2563 KiB  
Article
Ut sophistes pictor: An Introduction to the Sophistic Contribution to Aesthetics
by Clare Lapraik Guest
Humanities 2023, 12(4), 58; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12040058 - 02 Jul 2023
Viewed by 1053
Abstract
This essay provides an introduction to the question of the contribution of the ancient sophists to aesthetics in Western art. It commences by examining the persistent analogies to visual arts in negative and positive discussions of sophistry, both philosophical and rhetorical, and proceeds [...] Read more.
This essay provides an introduction to the question of the contribution of the ancient sophists to aesthetics in Western art. It commences by examining the persistent analogies to visual arts in negative and positive discussions of sophistry, both philosophical and rhetorical, and proceeds to examine sophistic rhetoric in Gorgias, Aristides, Lucian, Philostratus and Byzantine ekphrasis, culminating with Philostratus’ discussions of mimesis and phantasia in Apollonius of Tyana. The discussions of the relation of being and nonbeing in Gorgias’ On Nonbeing and in Plato’s Sophist form the ontological core of sophistic claims about imaginative invention and the sophistic advancement of voluntary illusion (apatē) as a means to poetic “justice” or “truth”. Such claims should be considered in the light of the epistemological and ontological skepticism propounded by Gorgias. Although the opprobrium attached to sophistry obscures its later influence, we can nevertheless discern a sophistic aesthetic tradition focused on the reflective reception of artworks that re-emerges in the Renaissance. In the last section, I adumbrate the lines of study for examining a sophistic Renaissance in the visual arts, with attention to antiquarianism as an area where the significance of the beholder’s imaginative projection suggests the endurance—or revitalization—of sophistic aesthetics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
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21 pages, 454 KiB  
Article
What Performative Contradiction Reveals: Plato’s Theaetetus and Gorgias on Sophistry
by Robert Metcalf
Humanities 2023, 12(2), 33; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12020033 - 10 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1615
Abstract
Socrates’ use of performative contradiction against sophistic theories is a recurrent motif in Plato’s dialogues. In the case of Plato’s Theaetetus and Gorgias, Socrates attempts to show that Protagoras’ homo mensura doctrine and Gorgias’ doctrine of the power of logos are each [...] Read more.
Socrates’ use of performative contradiction against sophistic theories is a recurrent motif in Plato’s dialogues. In the case of Plato’s Theaetetus and Gorgias, Socrates attempts to show that Protagoras’ homo mensura doctrine and Gorgias’ doctrine of the power of logos are each performatively contradicted by the underlying activity of philosophical dialogue. In the case of the Theaetetus, Socrates’ strategy of performative contradiction hinges on Protagoras’ failure to perform in the way that he theorized the sophist performing—namely, being able to change appearances through logoi (Theaetetus 166d–167d). In parallel fashion, Gorgias’ account of the power of rhetoric is performatively contradicted by the orator’s inability to prevail over Socrates, instead resorting to insincere responses to Socrates’ questions in order to save face—a dialogical “performance” that ties directly to Socrates’ portrait of Gorgianic rhetoric as a matter of pandering to the audience (Gorgias 460a–465a). Plato’s aim in dramatizing these performative contradictions, I argue, is to illuminate both the proximity between Socrates and the great sophists, particularly with respect to Socrates’ practice of elenchos, but also the distance between Socrates and the sophists in how they conceive of our situatedness within the world of human concerns. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
11 pages, 262 KiB  
Article
The Cosmopolitanism of the Early Sophists: The Case of Hippias and Antiphon
by Giovanni Giorgini
Humanities 2023, 12(2), 30; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12020030 - 24 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1151
Abstract
An investigation of the emergence of the notion of ‘Cosmopolitanism’ in 5th century Greece. The author focusses on the early sophists, and specifically on Antiphon and Hippias. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
15 pages, 328 KiB  
Article
Gorgias on Knowledge and the Powerlessness of Logos
by Josh Wilburn
Humanities 2023, 12(1), 9; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12010009 - 12 Jan 2023
Viewed by 2032
Abstract
In Gorgias’s Encomium of Helen and Defense of Palamedes, the orator draws attention to two important limitations of speech’s power that concern its different relationships to belief vs. knowledge. First, logos has the capacity to affect and change a person’s beliefs, but it [...] Read more.
In Gorgias’s Encomium of Helen and Defense of Palamedes, the orator draws attention to two important limitations of speech’s power that concern its different relationships to belief vs. knowledge. First, logos has the capacity to affect and change a person’s beliefs, but it is powerless to change or undermine a person’s knowledge. Second, speech has the power to produce a new belief, but it is powerless to produce knowledge itself where knowledge is lacking. My primary aim in this essay is to examine Gorgias’s epistemology of persuasive logos with a view to illuminating these two limitations. I suggest that Gorgias’s claims in the Helen and Palamedes make the most sense when considered in the forensic and deliberative contexts in which the art of rhetoric thrived in ancient Greece. In such contexts the prevailing epistemology that contemporary orators take for granted is a kind of folk empiricism that privileges sense-perception as a source of knowledge, and I argue that Gorgias’s ideas about logos and its limitations are best understood in terms of that epistemological framework. Speech cannot make people “unknow” what they have seen with their own eyes, nor can it act as a surrogate or replacement for sense-perception itself. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
14 pages, 298 KiB  
Article
Sophistry and Law: The Antilogical Pattern of Judicial Debate
by Stefania Giombini
Humanities 2023, 12(1), 1; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12010001 - 20 Dec 2022
Viewed by 1888
Abstract
This essay aims to reveal the relationship between sophistry and law in a twofold direction: on one side, how the development of ancient Greek law influenced sophistry’s production, and on the other, how and to what extent the knowledge and skills developed by [...] Read more.
This essay aims to reveal the relationship between sophistry and law in a twofold direction: on one side, how the development of ancient Greek law influenced sophistry’s production, and on the other, how and to what extent the knowledge and skills developed by sophists contributed to the development of legal expertise in classical Athens. The essay will initially focus on the historiographical category of the sophists to identify a line that connects these intellectuals to the new vision of society, the democratic polis, and the community that presides over legal and judicial life. This section will show that we can indeed speak of a “sophistic movement” in light of the structuring role of antilogies (antilogiae, or antithetical arguments) in forensic rhetoric. The rest of the essay will examine, from a theoretical point of view, sophistic methods of argument that contributed to the development of ancient Greek law. Touching on the issues of opposition, the debate, the reductio ad absurdum, and the principle of non-contradiction, the essay will highlight the relevance of sophistic thought to the judicial field and, more generally, the legal arena, in ancient Athens, so much so that one can think of the sophists as advocates of a particular legal culture. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
17 pages, 7387 KiB  
Article
A Site-Perspective on the Second Sophistic of the near East and Its Impact on the History of Rhetoric: An Overview
by Richard Leo Enos
Humanities 2022, 11(6), 154; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11060154 - 07 Dec 2022
Viewed by 1513
Abstract
This essay introduces and examines the impact of the Second Sophistic in the Near East on the history of rhetoric. Although the overall impact of sophists is apparent as early as the Classical Period of ancient Greece, this work emphasizes the renaissance of [...] Read more.
This essay introduces and examines the impact of the Second Sophistic in the Near East on the history of rhetoric. Although the overall impact of sophists is apparent as early as the Classical Period of ancient Greece, this work emphasizes the renaissance of sophistic rhetoric during the so-called Second Sophistic, a movement that flourished slightly before and throughout the Roman Empire. The Second Sophistic provided an educational system that proved to be a major force spreading the study and performance of rhetoric throughout the Roman Empire. This essay examines and synthesizes scholarship that employs conventional historical approaches, particularly research that often focuses on individual sophists, in order to establish a grounding (and justification) for concentrating on what is termed here as a “site-perspective.” That is, this essay stresses the importance of the sites of sophistic education and performance, arguing for such an orientation for future research. This essay also advances observations from the author’s own experiences and research at ancient sites in Greece and Turkey, as well as other sources of archaeological and epigraphical research. Such work reveals that artifacts at archaeological sites—epigraphy, statuary now held at museums in Greece and Turkey, and a range of other forms of material rhetoric—provide contextual insights into the nature, influence, and longevity of rhetoric during the Second Sophistic beyond examining the achievements of individual sophists. A site-perspective approach reveals that a symbiotic relationship existed between the educational achievements of the Second Sophistic—in which rhetoric played a major role—and the social and cultural complexities of the Roman Empire. Such observations also reveal the benefits, but also the need, for further fieldwork, archival research, and the development of new methodological procedures to provide a more refined understanding of the impact of the Second Sophistic on the history of rhetoric. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
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13 pages, 292 KiB  
Article
Socrates and the Sophists: Reconsidering the History of Criticisms of the Sophists
by Noburu Notomi
Humanities 2022, 11(6), 153; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11060153 - 07 Dec 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 8274
Abstract
To examine the sophists and their legacy, it is necessary to reconsider the relation between Socrates and the sophists. The trial of Socrates in 399 BCE seems to have changed people’s attitudes towards and conceptions of the sophists drastically, because Socrates was the [...] Read more.
To examine the sophists and their legacy, it is necessary to reconsider the relation between Socrates and the sophists. The trial of Socrates in 399 BCE seems to have changed people’s attitudes towards and conceptions of the sophists drastically, because Socrates was the first and only “sophist” executed for being a sophist. In the fifth century BCE, people treated natural philosophy, sophistic rhetoric and Socratic dialogue without clear distinctions, often viewing them as dangerous, impious and damaging to society. After the trial of Socrates, however, Plato sharply dissociated Socrates from the sophists and treated his teacher as a model philosopher and the latter as fakes, despite many common features and shared interests between them. While Plato’s distinction was gradually accepted by his contemporaries and by subsequent thinkers through the fourth century BCE, some disciples of Socrates and the second generation of sophists continued to pride themselves on being sophists and philosophers at the same time. Thus, this paper argues that Socrates belonged to the sophistic movement before Plato dissociated him from the other sophists, although the trial of Socrates did not immediately eliminate confusion between the sophist and the philosopher. The reconstructed view of the contemporaries of Socrates and Plato will change our conception of the sophists, as well as of Socrates. Finally, the paper examines the relation of Socrates to Antiphon of Rhamnus. Plato deliberately ignored this Athenian sophist because he was a shadowy double of Socrates in democratic Athens. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
16 pages, 335 KiB  
Article
The Metaphysics of Sophistry: Protagoras, Nāgārjuna, Antilogos
by Robin Reames
Humanities 2022, 11(5), 105; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11050105 - 26 Aug 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1792
Abstract
There is no category of thought more deliberately or explicitly relegated to a subordinate role in Plato’s dialogues than Sophists and sophistry. It is due to Plato’s influence that terms “sophist” and “sophistry” handed down to us have unilaterally negative associations—synonymous with lies [...] Read more.
There is no category of thought more deliberately or explicitly relegated to a subordinate role in Plato’s dialogues than Sophists and sophistry. It is due to Plato’s influence that terms “sophist” and “sophistry” handed down to us have unilaterally negative associations—synonymous with lies and deception, obscurantism and false reasoning. There are several reasons to be dubious of this standard view of the Sophists and their practices. The primary reason addressed in this essay is that the surviving fragments of the Sophists do not accord with this standard view, a discrepancy that is particularly acute in the case of the 5th-century sophist Protagoras. This essay attends to Protagoras’s doctrines concerning antilogos, the sophistic practice of contradiction and negation. I contend that sophistic antilogos was a paradoxical practice that embodied metaphysical stakes for language and discourse. I challenge the standard view of Sophists and their antilogos by reconstructing a speculative counter-definition: a method for instantiating through language an ontology of flux and becoming over and against what would come to be a Platonist metaphysics of enduring, pure Being. I do this through a comparative analysis of Protagoras and the second century C.E. South Asian Buddhist thinker, Nāgārjuna. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy)
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