The philosophical field is undoubtedly the first scholastic field to have constituted itself by achieving autonomy with respect to the developing political field and the religious field, in Greece in the 5th century BC.
Bourdieu Pascalian Meditations
Competing Articulations of Philosophy
It is widely accepted today that philosophy as a specialized discipline was not developed before Plato, but that he was instrumental in creating and defining this new field of intellectual practices.  His articulation of philosophy was so powerful that it remained largely uncontested into modern times.  But the establishment of the discipline of philosophy in antiquity was anything but a straightforward or uncontested process.  There was a fierce debate about the meaning and successful appropriation of the term philosophia, and this debate was pursued as much in terms of what philosophia was not as in terms of what it was. In this context omissions and misrepresentations of competing articulations become an essential strategy. In expressing his own view of philosophy, Plato simultaneously designates sophistry as philosophy’s opposite, its “daemonic double,” to quote Michael MacDonald. 
Plato systematically associated a specific group of practitioners of wisdom with the derogatory label sophist and then projected onto them a set of unflattering characteristics. Edward Schiappa has called attention to this Platonic practice, which he labels “dissociation:” The intellectual ostracism of the sophists was upheld and furthered by Aristotle.  Michael Frede’s recent exploration of the Aristotelian history of Greek philosophy in the Metaphysics illustrates this development. Frede calls attention to how interrelated Aristotle’s conception of philosophy is with his discussion of its origin and first practitioner:Of particular interest are the temporal limits that Aristotle imposes on the development of philosophy. He traces its origin back to Thales and no further. Though he acknowledges that some (τινες) claim that Thales’ views that water was the origin of everything had already been expressed by others, Aristotle staunchly rejects any attempt to lend the name of philosophy to these earlier expressions.
In this instance Plato was attempting to dissociate the general and traditional meaning of sophistês as a wise person or teacher into two concepts, one of which (the Sophist as a possessor of counterfeit knowledge) would be negatively valued, the other (the philosopher as the seeker of true wisdom) would be positively valued. 
So there is reason to think that Aristotle in [Metaphysics] A.1–2 also tries to advocate a certain conception of wisdom and thereby of philosophy, that his account of the beginnings and early history of philosophy reflects this conception, and that this conception itself also is influenced by reflection on this history and supposed to be borne out by it. 
But who were the ones who wanted to trace the history of philosophy beyond Thales? Plato for one, argues Ross, referring to a passage in the Cratylus (402a–c) that matches the view expressed in Aristotle.  Frede, following Bruno Snell, sees a common source for both Plato and Aristotle, and identifies Hippias of Elis as its originator. Through great detective work, Snell has shown that the discussions of the poetic predecessors of Heraclitus and Thales in the Cratylus (402a–c) and the Metaphysics (983b20–984a5) are derived from the work of Hippias (contemporary of Socrates). In this work, argues Snell, Hippias contrasted Thales’ opinions to those of such older poetic predecessors as Homer, Hesiod, and Orpheus. In the Cratylus Plato substitutes Thales with Heraclitus because it better fits his purposes and also because Plato is making a joke.  Despite this difference in the two accounts, however, the common source, according to Snell, is Hippias. Carl Joachim Classen has taken this investigation further and found other traces of Hippias in Plato’s Symposium and Aristotle’s Metaphysics. 
Building on Snell and Classen, Jaap Mansfeld has convincingly argued that the sophists were instrumental in developing the early forms of doxography, and that the organizing principles of these works—for example the exposition of related ideas—are reflected in the discussions of the history and origin of philosophy in both Plato and Aristotle.  In addition to Hippias, both Protagoras and Gorgias exhibited an interest in cataloguing the opinions of their predecessors, though the evidence regarding them suggests a more polemical stance than that found in Hippias. 
Much of the evidence relating to the early development of doxography has to be painstakingly reconstructed through a patchwork of references and cross-references. When it comes to Hippias’ contribution, however, we are on slightly firmer footing. Clement of Alexandria in the Stromateis (6.2.15 = DK 86B6) quotes what is supposedly the proem of Hippias’ Synagoge (Collection): It seems that Hippias’ ambition was to present in the Synagoge an overview of contemporary and ancient thinking on an encyclopedic scale, and that the work was organized according to themes that were illustrated by short quotations from the primary sources.  Hippias also seems to have assumed that all contemporary thinking was derived from older predecessors;  or, to be more precise, Hippias seems to have believed that all contemporary thinking that we today might characterize as philosophical was ultimately derived from older, mythological expressions, though these older expressions might lack the sophistication and explicit articulation found in later writers.  The exposition in the Synagoge most likely started with a statement from one of Hippias’ contemporaries or predecessors and then traced it back to the works of one of the poets of old, such as Musaeus, Homer, or Hesiod. 
τούτων ἴσως εἴρηται τὰ μὲν Ὀρφεῖ, τὰ δὲ Μουσαίῳ κατὰ βραχὺ ἄλλῳ ἀλλαχοῦ, τὰ δὲ Ἡσιόδῳ τὰ δὲ Ὁμήρῳ, τὰ δὲ τοῖς ἄλλοις τῶν ποιητῶν, τὰ δὲ ἐν συγγραφαῖς τὰ μὲν Ἕλλησι τὰ δὲ βαρβάροις· ἐγὼ δὲ ἐκ πάντων τούτων τὰ μέγιστα καὶ ὁμόφυλα συνθεὶς τοῦτον καινὸν καὶ πολυειδῆ τὸν λόγον ποιήσομαι.
Some of these things have probably been said by Orpheus, others by Musaeus briefly in different places, yet others by Hesiod and Homer, others by the other poets, others in the prose writings of Greeks and non-Greeks alike. But I will make this account new and varied by putting together the most important and related sayings from all of them.
This, then, seems to be the competing articulation of the origin of philosophy that Aristotle rejects in the first book of the Metaphysics. As opposed to Hippias, Aristotle will not allow philosophy’s origin to stretch back to the poetic past, be it Greek or non-Greek.  But why does Aristotle settle with Thales? This question can of course be answered in numerous ways, but what matters at present is how it relates to Aristotle’s conception of philosophy, a point that Frede has explored. He sees Aristotle’s decision to let philosophy begin with Thales as anything but arbitrary. He reminds us that when Aristotle wrote the Metaphysics there was no consensus about what philosophy was or should be.  Part of Aristotle’s ambition was to champion his view of philosophy, to present a normative account of his own intellectual practices. The selection of Thales, then, serves the purpose of portraying philosophy as theoretical and as “universal, knowledge of the ultimate causes and principles of things, of what there is, quite generally.” 
But in advocating this view of philosophy, Aristotle rejects another and older view, articulated by Hippias in the Synagoge. It is important that we understand how polemical Aristotle’s articulation is, a point highlighted by Mansfeld.  At the core of the Aristotelian articulation of philosophy lies a suppression of an alternate—and unacknowledged because unnamed—articulation. By imposing a limit on when philosophy began—with Thales—Aristotle is simultaneously imposing a limit on what philosophy is and ought to be: that is to say, non-Hippian. There is thus a double process at work in the Metaphysics. To begin with, Aristotle chooses not to mention Hippias by name as the subject of his critique, effectively delegitimizing Hippias’ status as a sophos. But Aristotle also rejects Hippias’ intellectual position on the history and scope of philosophy. As opposed to Hippias, for whom philosophy is not unique to the Greeks nor sufficiently distinct to require separate treatment from the earliest poetic expressions, Aristotle chooses not to grant the status of philosophy to any of Thales’ precursors.
This phenomenon is not limited to the Metaphysics, Aristotle, or even Hippias. Snell, Classen, Patzer, and Mansfeld have shown that Plato too drew on Hippias’ work, also without mentioning Hippias’ name or explicitly acknowledging his source.  As already mentioned, Mansfeld has made the case that Protagoras and Gorgias engaged in rudimentary doxography. Their works would presumably also have been available to Plato and Aristotle. We might suspect, though with less certainty than in the case of Hippias, that the Platonic and Aristotelian suppression of alternate articulations of philosophy applied also to these two key sophistic figures. 
Except for the titillating suggestion of a comprehensive work authored by Hippias—thus predating Plato (ca. 427–347BCE)—on the origin and development of philosophy, the real significance of this discussion lies in the evidence of a competing articulation of the Greek wisdom tradition. Hippias’ conception of philosophy, according to this analysis, is lurking behind and informing the accounts of both Plato and Aristotle. We might say that Hippias comes to personify the presence of a competing, but ultimately suppressed tradition. It is of course tempting to ask what philosophy could have looked like if Hippias’ view had won the day. Just as Aristotle’s articulation of philosophy is inherently linked with his conceptualization of its beginning, so, presumably, is Hippias’. As enticing as the “what if” question of the Hippian articulation of philosophy is, however, it is too broad for the current project. Let it suffice to say that others have turned to the sophists to find a corrective and more tolerant view of philosophy than that found in Plato and Aristotle—with mixed results. 
During Hippias’ lifetime, the debate about philosophy was still actively pursued, and no single position had yet prevailed. It is against this realization that we need to read Plato’s and Aristotle’s all but total omission of competing accounts—a strategy that has proven remarkably successful. In tandem with this omission, Plato and Aristotle also managed to characterize the sophists as an intellectually homogeneous group—and as one that was decisively alien to their own intellectual tradition. Perhaps the most enduring effect of the Platonic characterization of the sophists is precisely their unique status. This “otherness,” I argue, was established first by Plato and later developed by Xenophon and Aristotle, and it has been a feature of almost all consecutive discussions of the sophists up till the present time. 
I will survey central criteria of sophistic otherness, in order to outline what stands in the way of assuming a fully integrated position for the sophists in the Greek wisdom tradition. I will start with the characteristics established by the Platonic tradition and move on to features that have been added over time by successive commentators, both ancient and modern. In some cases there exists a large body of scholarly literature critical of the Platonic portrayal. In these instances, I will mostly summarize those findings. In other instances, however, the Platonic verdict has largely gone unchallenged. I shall have more to say about those points later on. The first three criteria of sophistic distinctiveness fall into this category.
A certain group of practitioners of wisdom were singled out and labeled sophists. This classificatory designation clearly marks them off as a distinct category of sophoi. In the first chapter, I will examine the use of the term σοφιστής in antiquity and go on to argue that it is only in Plato and Aristotle that we find a consistent application of it to specific individuals. Elsewhere the term was in far wider use, and referred to a wider range of intellectual life. Yet, most modern treatments of fifth and fourth century BCE Greece use the term sophist in respect to the individuals so designated in Plato and Aristotle without acknowledging its wide—and contentious—application in antiquity. By perpetuating this use of the term sophist, then, we are perpetuating a Platonic category—in a way analogous to the hypothetical scenario of labeling Socrates a sophist because he is so characterized in Aristophanes’ Clouds, without considering the wider implications of its comic and Aristophanic use.
We are so trapped in Platonic categories that it is almost impossible to discuss this group of thinkers without simultaneously reinforcing their unique status as championed by Plato. But since this is a connection that I am trying to question, what is the appropriate terminology to adopt to distinguish between the Platonically designed sophists, on the one hand, and the historical individuals, on the other? To add to this confusion, we should note that many individuals that we typically would not think of as sophists were frequently so labeled in antiquity. What terms can we employ that adequately capture and clearly differentiate these different groups?
Given that the label sophist is so ingrained, it seems impractical and unnecessarily counterintuitive to avoid it. I propose to sacrifice semantic precision for the sake of comprehensibility. The term sophist will be used with different significations, sometimes indicating anyone labeled σοφιστής in our primary texts, and sometimes referring strictly to the group of individuals so designated in Plato and onward, that is, Protagoras, Gorgias, Prodicus, Hippias, and the rest. The discussion in chapter one and elsewhere is intended to illustrate the semantic range of the term in antiquity and to demonstrate why it is problematic as a modern category to describe a set of specific individuals, given how dependent this grouping and its characterization are on the influential testimony of Plato.
More advisable, however, and to the extent possible, I will avoid group labels altogether and refer to each individual by his own name. To highlight the fluidity of categories in the Greek wisdom tradition and to emphasize the lack of intellectual specialization, I will occasionally use the term sophos (plural sophoi) as an unmarked designation to refer to individuals with a claim to wisdom (sophia). This term is common in Greek and embraces a wide variety of groups that we would hesitate to juxtapose, such as sages, lawgivers, religious experts, poets, and philosophers.
Another area in which the sophists’ distinctiveness is claimed is that they are said to trade in wisdom. In fact, this association has become so strong that it works both ways; that is, anyone who is a sophist must teach for money, and anyone who teaches for money must be a sophist. Chapter two is devoted to exploring how this association of money and wisdom is part of a larger invective discourse with analogous features in old comedy and tragedy. In these genres charges of venality are frequently levied against sophoi in an attempt to undermine their position as authorities in wisdom by implying that they are motivated by greed. The Platonic characterization of the sophists as greedy peddlers of specious wisdom, I argue, needs to be understood less as a way to describe historical practices than as an attempt to undercut their intellectual integrity.
It is also regularly claimed that the sophists led an itinerant lifestyle and traveled all over Greece in search of employment. As opposed to their predecessors and contemporaries, their travels were not motivated by intellectual curiosity, only by the prospects of attracting students and of increasing their profits. Silvia Montiglio perfectly reproduces this essentially Platonic characterization when she establishes a contrast between the professional travels of the sophists and the intellectual journeys of Solon and Democritus:However, an examination of the primary sources reveals that travel and wisdom were intrinsically linked in ancient Greece from at least the archaic period onward. In chapter four, I argue that travel was a fundamental aspect of the archaic Greek institutions of wisdom and of crucial importance to the circulation and dissemination of wisdom. In the institutional framework that made travel possible and gave cultural credibility to individual sages to crisscross the Greek world there are no clearly identifiable differences between the travels of the sophists and those of other practitioners of wisdom. Instead, they seem to undertake their travel for similar purposes and within established channels of communication. If anything, Socrates seems to be the odd man out with his insistence on remaining in Athens and rejection of (intellectual) travel.
But unlike Solon or Democritus, the Sophists did not travel in order to acquire knowledge. Hardly any ‘theory’, any abstract curiosity or ethnographic interest motivated their travels. Rather, the Sophists traveled to sell their skill … Travelling was part of their professional activity. 
Yet another persistent claim is that the sophists were predominantly concerned with rhetoric, not philosophy.  Both Schiappa and Thomas Cole have argued convincingly that the close association of rhetoric with the sophists is another Platonic and Aristotelian definitional imposition aimed at circumscribing sophistic intellectual practices and portraying them as subordinate to their own philosophical enterprises.  Schiappa writes that “the word rhêtorikê may have been coined by Plato in the process of composing the Gorgias around 385 BCE.”  As Andrea Nightingale has pointed out, it was in the Gorgias that Plato first offered an exhaustive definition of philosophy and applied it to his own activities. She goes on to note that, “if Schiappa is right about rhêtorikê, then the first explicit and systematic definition of the art of rhetoric would go hand in hand with the first attempt to define philosophy. In attempting to define his own territory, as it seems, Plato had to define and delimit his rival’s terrain.” 
There are thus good reasons to question the contention that the sophists’ intellectual activities were predominantly focused on rhetoric, especially given the negative assessment of rhetoric in comparison with philosophy found in both Plato and Aristotle. The workings of language was an area of interest that many of the sophists shared, but it was not restricted to what Plato labels rhetoric,  nor was it their exclusive interest,  and it had not gone unexplored by earlier practitioners of wisdom. In the Helen (2–3), for example, Isocrates compared the rhetorical writings of Gorgias and Protagoras to those of Zeno and Melissus,  who are traditionally included among the Presocratics; and Aristotle, in his lost work the Sophist (DK 29A10 = Diogenes Laertius 8.57) wrote that Empedocles invented rhetoric and Zeno of Elea dialectic.  G. B. Kerferd has shown how Heraclitus and Parmenides, both in different ways, struggled with the relationship between language and reality, and he has suggested that their arguments “provided the starting point for sophistic discussions of linguistic theories.” 
As for the rhetorical features that we do find in the writings of the sophists, Mark Griffith has argued that, far from being novel in nature, they exhibit strong traditional characteristics:As we have already seen, however, it was not only in the poetic predecessors that models for the sophistic rhetorical techniques were found. There is no doubt that the focus on public oratory intensified in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. But it was not exclusive to the group Plato labels sophists, nor can it be used as a sufficient defining characteristic to describe the extent of their intellectual activities.
Such writers as Gorgias, Protagoras, and Euripides, though they certainly struck their contemporaries as doing something strange and (to many) shocking, were not for the most part introducing radically new techniques or attitudes, but rather exploiting, systematizing, and exaggerating possibilities that they found already well developed by their poetic predecessors. 
It is often claimed that the sophists falsely represent the content of their teaching—that they teach what appears to be X but is not X—thus actively deceiving their pupils. This is a position upheld by Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle—and modern scholars, too. Aristotle gives the position a clear expression:In the Metaphysics, Aristotle adds that “dialectic is tentative regarding the things where philosophy is capable of knowledge, and the sophistic art is what appears to be philosophy but is not.”  The seventh definition of sophist in the Platonic dialogue of the same name unequivocally underscores the Platonic position:
ἔστι γὰρ ἡ σοφιστικὴ φαινομένη σοφία οὖσα δ’ οὔ, καὶ ὁ σοφιστὴς χρηματιστὴς ἀπὸ φαινομένης σοφίας ἀλλ’ οὐκ οὔσης.
The sophistic art appears to be wisdom without being it, and the sophist is one who makes money from what appears to be, but is not, wisdom. 
VISITOR: Imitation of the contrary-speech-producing, insincere and unknowing sort, of the appearance-making kind of copy-making, the word-juggling part of production that’s marked off as human and not divine. Anyone who says that the sophist is of this “blood and family” will be saying, it seems, the complete truth.
Trans. White 
Xenophon, in turn, takes a less convoluted stance and asserts that, “the sophists talk to deceive, write for their own profit, and benefit no one.” 
This characterization of the sophists as charlatans and intellectual forgers will receive substantial attention in chapters three to six. These chapters contain an exploration of the traditional elements of the sophists’ intellectual practices and highlight how deeply embedded they were in the Greek wisdom tradition.
The sophists, it is also claimed, subscribed to extreme relativism and denied the existence of objective judgments.  The basis for this view is mainly to be found in Plato’s treatment of Protagoras’ homo mensura doctrine in the Theaetetus. Modern scholars, treating Protagoras as the intellectual spearhead of the sophistic movement, seem to have generalized this Platonic characterization and applied similar views to the sophists as a group.  But, as Richard Bett has shown, extreme relativism, strictly speaking, can be attributed only to Protagoras, and even in his case with great uncertainty. It is of course possible to attribute relativistic ideas to the sophists—for example, that what qualifies as a virtuous action depends on the context and circumstances under which it is undertaken—but such reasoning is in no way exclusive to them; if this is the criterion for relativism, we would have to include both Socrates and Aristotle in this group.  In other words, if by relativism is meant the rejection of objectivity, then it is misguided to attribute this position to any of the sophists, with the possible exception of Protagoras.  There is very little evidence to suggest that the sophists as a group shared relativistic ideas or that such philosophical inclinations would constitute a trademark of their thinking.
It is further claimed that the sophistic movement developed in response to specific Athenian social forces, and that the sophists spent most of their time in Athens. Kerferd articulates this point most succinctly: “Their coming was not simply something from without, but rather a development internal to the history of Athens.”  Another traditional assumption emphasizes the sophists’ democratic sensibilities—an assumption closely linked to the previous point, since Athens is strongly identified with its democratic form of government. Jacqueline de Romilly writes that:Against this Athenocentric view of the sophistic movement, Robert Wallace has argued that Athens—and its democratic form of government—has been given too much importance in understanding the sophists:Rosalind Thomas, in her work on Herodotus, is also highly critical of the way scholars tend to over-emphasize the significance of Athens, both as the sole impetus for the intellectual movement in the second half of the fifth century (at the expense of, say, eastern Greece), but also as the undisputed center of all intellectual activity in general. 
A priori, it is certainly true that the development of their teaching programme was linked with that of the Athenian democracy. The rhetorical and political training that they purveyed only made sense if the skill of public speaking truly did make it possible for individuals to play an effective role. 
Virtually all the various characteristics of their teaching and careers are attested earlier than 450, and not in narrow association with Athens. These characteristics developed not simply as a result of or always in conjunction with democracy—though they certainly flourished under open democratic systems—but also for internal philosophical reasons. Even during the second half of the fifth century, most of those whom we regularly call sophists spent most of their time outside Athens. 
There is an abundance of evidence of the sophists’ activities outside of Athens, explored in chapters four and five. When Gorgias first visited Athens in 427 BCE, for example, he was around sixty years old and had presumably already made a reputation for himself.  To judge from Plato’s characterization in the dialogue Protagoras, many years had elapsed since Protagoras’ last visit—years during which he was active elsewhere.  As is argued at greater length in chapters four and five, to claim that the sophists owed their existence to Athens overstates Athens’ importance and ignores intellectual developments elsewhere in Greece.
What about the sophists’ democratic experiences outside of Athens? Eric Robinson has recently argued that modern scholarship has put too much emphasis on Athens while not sufficiently exploring the contexts in which the sophists initially shaped their intellectual frameworks. He concludes that:But the evidence to support a specifically democratic political influence on the intellectual articulations of the sophists is scant and mainly circumstantial, and it seems to be assumed solely as a result of Athens’ presumed role in shaping the sophistic movement. More attractive—and certainly more substantiated—is G. E. R. Lloyd’s claim that the development of Greek scientific rationality as a whole was intrinsically linked with democratic ideology.  Lloyd is careful not to argue for a direct causal relationship between the emergence of democracy and rationality, but he clearly sees democratic ideology as fertile ground for the kinds of intellectual developments typically associated with rationality and philosophy.  From the point of view of Lloyd’s thesis, with its emphasis on democratic ideology over realities,  it seems unnecessary and even problematic to separate different degrees of democratic influence among the various philosophers; it seems preferable to assume a suggestive analogy between the political developments that took place in the wake of the rise of the polis and the emergence of a rational and philosophical discourse in ancient Greece. 
the sophists and democracy were indeed deeply connected, if in some unexpected ways. Athens, as a congenial visiting ground and a rich source of customers, played a role in the story, but was not as important as the democratic communities whence the sophists came. 
Greek Conceptions of Wisdom
This list of alleged criteria of sophistic distinctiveness is of course not exhaustive, but it does, I hope, help shed light on the pervasiveness of the ways in which the sophists have been construed as qualitatively different from their predecessors and contemporaries. The notion of sophistic difference seems to undermine any attempt to argue for a reconsideration of the areas of intellectual overlaps. But such an argument finds strong support in our primary sources. To begin with, we have ample documentation indicating that Gorgias, Hippias, Prodicus, and Antiphon had an interest in physical speculation, while Hippias and Antiphon were accomplished mathematicians—both areas traditionally considered a dividing line between philosophers and sophists.  But more importantly, if we take as our starting point Greek conceptualizations of wisdom and wise men, our modern taxonomies often appear ill-suited to describe with any kind of accuracy the multiplicity of positions found in ancient Greece.
What precisely did the Greeks mean by wisdom (sophia), and whom did they look to as experts (sophoi)? Lloyd stresses the range of the term sophia in the classical period, where:Aristotle’s classic account of the different developmental stages of wisdom has had a strong influence on modern scholars.  In his view, described in the first chapter of the Metaphysics, wisdom showed a steady progression in Greek culture from skill in particulars to skill in universals, eventually culminating in Aristotle’s own scientific philosophy.  Kerferd has persuasively rejected this view on the grounds that the account too directly reflects Aristotle’s own theories of philosophy and the development of wisdom, especially in the emphasis on the intellectual vector from particulars to universals.  In opposing this Aristotelian account, Kerferd notes that wisdom was initially connected with the poet, the seer, and the sage, and that their knowledge was not pertaining to a particular skill, “but knowledge about the gods, man and society, to which the ‘wise man’ claimed privileged access.”  This knowledge, in turn, was divinely inspired—always pertaining to content; and the content in question was education—the turf par excellence of sophoi. 
you can be called σοφός in any one of the arts, painting or sculpting or flute-playing, in athletic skills, wrestling, or throwing the javelin or horsemanship, and in any of the crafts, not just in piloting a ship or healing the sick or farming but, at the limit, in cobbling or carpentry or cooking: all those examples can be illustrated from the Platonic corpus. 
In response to Aristotle’s teleological vision, Kerferd argues for a single and unified notion of sophia and stresses the role of the wise man as educator.  Depending on context, sophia can come to take on particular meanings, but this should not invite us to see shifts in the overall meaning of the word itself;  rather, we must investigate the various meanings by paying particular attention to the context in which the word occurs. 
Built into any definition of sophia must be an understanding of its polyvalence and the competing (and sometimes mutually exclusive) conceptions that existed at different times and in different groups in Greek culture. A good example of such a contestation over sophia is Euripides’ Bacchae, where Pentheus’ vision and wisdom are repeatedly contrasted to those of Cadmus and Teiresias. Line 395, uttered by the chorus of Bacchae, perfectly captures the tension between the two camps, as the Bacchae challenge the position of Pentheus: τὸ σοφὸν δ’ οὐ σοφία, “cleverness/wisdom is not wisdom.” Here τὸ σοφόν is equated with the rejection of the gods as opposed to the true devotion of the Bacchae themselves. The approach adopted in this study is to avoid fixed, lexicographical definitions and instead expect multiple appropriations and contestations of the meaning and development of sophia. Fixed definitions run the danger of ignoring such cultural processes. In other words, rather than proceeding from the meaning of sophia to the successive establishment of the category of sophos, we would perhaps arrive at a better understanding if we turned this formula on its head and explored sophia precisely through the category of sophos: whoever could authoritatively claim a position as sophos would be an illustrative example of sophia, regardless of how well (or not) his expertise fits standard definitions of the term. 
But what were the necessary requirements to claim a position as a sophos? Wits and personality, argues Lloyd.  As much as this statement is true and avoids reifying the concept of philosophy and philosopher, it nevertheless fails to take seriously the problem of authority, that is, the process of acquiring the cultural legitimacy necessary to claim a position of sophos. Authority, it seems to me, is ideally considered sociologically.
The crucial theoretical assumptions in my approach have to do with building into the analysis a critical understanding of the competitive and opposing claims to authority by the practitioners in the field of sophia. These claims often go unnoticed as such, since they are presented by the individual sophoi as disinterested and, thus, as universal. My approach draws on the cultural sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and places the locus of contestation in the internal dynamics of the field, a realm of social practices that has managed to carve out its own social space and to achieve relative autonomy vis-à-vis other fields.  Autonomy translates into cultural authority. The higher the degree of autonomy acquired by a field—the extent to which it can impose its own logic and rules on the players and resist the logic of other fields—the greater the authority of its practices. Internally, in turn, a similar struggle over legitimacy occurs among the participants, where each individual or institution attempts to present his or her own practices as most in line with the logic of the field and, therefore, as most legitimate. This internal jockeying for position creates a highly agonistic climate where contestation is endemic.  In the words of Loïc Wacquant, “a field is an arena of struggle, through which agents and institutions seek to preserve or overturn the existing distribution of capital …; it is a battlefield wherein the bases of identity and hierarchy are endlessly disputed over.”  The struggle over hierarchy often takes the form of a struggle over definitions and categories, over orthodoxy versus heterodoxy, in attempts to boost one’s own position by describing it as orthodox and undermining the positions of others by categorizing them as heterodox. 
Bourdieu’s notion of field has particular hermeneutic value for studying the social world of ancient Greece. We do not have a clearly differentiated social world in ancient Greece with distinctly separated fields of, say, politics, economy, religion, and philosophy, so the applicability of his concept will not be entirely straightforward. But even though the process of differentiation might not yet be fully advanced in this early period, the period under investigation, the development of higher degrees of separation among various social realms is nevertheless underway. Indeed, following Bourdieu, I would argue that the field of philosophy is among the first social realms to establish itself as a truly independent social universe, and that this development started to take place in the fifth century BCE. 
For these reasons Bourdieu’s notion of field can be a useful theoretical tool to analyze the spawning process of social differentiation and of rival claims to legitimacy and authority among ancient practitioners of wisdom. I put this theoretical insight to work in focusing on the internal contestation among sophoi, to illustrate, for example, how the term σοφιστής became critical in the struggle over legitimacy, and how accusations of teaching for pay took on a similar role. If this interpretation is valid, it becomes problematic for modern critics to adopt ancient categories (such as σοφιστής) confidently as if they were neutral designations, totally removed from their original, contentious context. In doing this we would effectively be taking sides in an ideologically driven battle over legitimacy, rather than examining the conditions under which the categories came to be attached to certain individuals, and the connotations that those categories conveyed.
The rehabilitation of the sophists championed in this study is of course not altogether new. In recent decades the intellectual balkanization of the sophists has been challenged in a number of influential contributions to the study of Greek culture. G. E. R. Lloyd, for example, has questioned the validity of the category of sophist and stressed the fluidity among the different categories of practitioners of wisdom.  Andrea Nightingale, while emphasizing the continuity in practices among the early practitioners of wisdom, has warned about the danger of adopting Platonic and Aristotelian terms when discussing the early practitioners of wisdom.  Robert Wallace, too, has pointed out that “[i]n fifth-century texts the distinction between sophist and philosopher was not made.”  R. P. Martin, finally, has expanded on our understanding of the meaning and cultural significance of wisdom in early Greek society. In an ethnographic exploration of the Seven Sages, Martin has emphasized the non-verbal and gestural qualities of the wisdom distinct to the early sages.  His notion of the early sages as “performers of wisdom” offers a rich template from which to understand the Greek conceptualization of wisdom and the way in which these qualities appear—however refracted—in later practitioners of wisdom, including the sophists. While there is thus no shortage of contemporary scholarship to support a rehabilitation of the sophists—and it is precisely in dialogue with these works that I would like to position my own analysis—most of these works address the sophists only incidentally. There has not appeared since Kerferd’s Sophistic Movement a monograph devoted entirely to exploring their role in the Greek wisdom tradition. The present study hopes to remedy this situation by providing such a full-length examination.
[ back ] 1. Nightingale 1995:10: “Indeed, as a careful analysis of the terminology will attest, φιλοσοφεῖν does not take on a specialized and technical meaning until Plato appropriates the term for his own enterprise. When Plato set forth a specific and quite narrow definition of this term, I will suggest, he created a new and specialized discipline.” But see Laks 2006, esp. 55–82, for a critique of this position. According to Laks, the development of philosophy as an autonomous field of activities had already emerged before Plato, as evidenced by the discussions in Gorgias Helen (13), Hippocrates On Ancient Medicine (20), and Plato Euthydemus 305c. If we take into consideration the doxographical nature of Hippias’ Synagoge (see discussion below), it seems very likely that Laks is right in his critique of the view of Plato as philosophy’s inventor. What matters to my argument, however, is not that Plato was the first to establish philosophy as an autonomous field, only that his articulation was among the first ones and that it deliberately portrayed philosophy as an old discipline without acknowledging either its newfangled or contested status.
[ back ] 2. Cf. Schiappa 1991:7.
[ back ] 3. For the Platonic and Isocratean contestation over the correct meaning and application of philosophy, see Nightingale 1995:1–59. Cf. Lloyd 2005:12–13, who makes the intriguing point that the first historical invocations of philosophy did not always have positive connotations.
[ back ] 4. “The refutation of sophistry constitutes one of the founding acts of philosophy. Philosophy, it seems, creates itself by purging the sophists as its other, its daemonic double, even its ‘counteressence’ (Gegenwesen),” MacDonald 2006:39.
[ back ] 5. “Dissociation is a rhetorical strategy whereby an advocate attempts to break up a previously unified idea into two concepts: one which will be positively valued by the target audience and one which will be negatively valued,” Sciappa 1991:6.
[ back ] 6. Sciappa 1991:6.
[ back ] 7. I would like to establish from the beginning that I do not mean to imply that the philosophical systems of Plato and Aristotle are identical or even similar. Their treatment of the sophists, however, is, for the most part, very similar. Only in this respect do I assume correspondences between them.
[ back ] 8. Frede 2004:17.
[ back ] 9. Ross 1953, 1:130.
[ back ] 10. But see the objections raised against this assumption in Mansfeld 1990:43–55.
[ back ] 11. Classen 1965.
[ back ] 12. “The assumption that the rudimentary beginnings of the historiography of Greek philosophy may be dated to the period of the Sophists is a very safe one,” Mansfeld 1990:27. “Their [sc. Plato’s and Aristotle’s] famous discussions of the problems of being and becoming, of unity and plurality, and of genesis and change or motion, are ultimately rooted in the preliminary doxographies of the Sophists,” Mansfeld 1990:69.
[ back ] 13. Mansfeld 1990:22–83.
[ back ] 14. For a discussion of the origin of this title, see Patzer 1986:97–99. All translations are mine, unless otherwise indicated.
[ back ] 15. See Patzer 1986:32.
[ back ] 16. Patzer 1986:110.
[ back ] 17. Both Patzer 1986 and Baulaudé 2006 argue that the ideas that underpin Hippias’ Synagoge were revolutionary. Patzer points out that Hippias’ assumption that everything new is of ancient origin broke with the traditional view of the past: Xenophanes, Hecataeus, and Heraclitus all invoked their predecessors with polemical intent and to underscore their difference with and superiority over their intellectual predecessors. It was only in the late fifth century and in the thinking of the sophists, argues Patzer (110–111), that this new conception of the past developed—a conception based upon the realization that a new era had begun, which had liberated itself from and even overcome the previous era. Baulaudé (287–304), in turn, stresses the novelty of how Hippias relates to knowledge. He breaks with his predecessors in not wanting to transmit the opinions of his predecessors for the purpose of putting the reader in a position to understand nature, but rather for the purpose of understanding what has been said about nature, so that this knowledge can be applied to the political sphere. In Baulaudé’s view, Hippias’ project was fundamentally political.
[ back ] 18. For an attempt at reconstructing the Synagoge, see Snell 1944 and Patzer 1986:33–42. One remaining question is what purpose the Synagoge had. Whereas Aristotle quoted earlier thinkers only to point out their inadequacies compared to his own philosophical system—especially as their thinking related to the four causes—it is not clear that Hippias had similar intentions. From the little we know about the Synagoge, it appears that Hippias was aiming at the opposite, namely to show how the ancients had already anticipated—though in cruder form—what later practitioners of wisdom would claim as their own intellectual accomplishments.
[ back ] 19. “Aristotle, by making a clear cut, prevents the origins of philosophy from disappearing in the remote legendary past of Greece or even of the Near East,” Frede 2004:33.
[ back ] 20. Frede 2004:15–16. In reality, there seems to have been a great deal of fluidity among the different types of sophoi and temporal continuity in their intellectual practices. For philosophical pluralism and fluidity in philosophical traditions before Plato, see Lloyd 2005:11: “there was no uniformity about what ‘philosophy’ is or should be in Greek thought before Plato … Plato and Aristotle themselves began the reprocessing of earlier Greek thought in the light of their own—far from identical—images of philosophy.”
[ back ] 21. Frede 2004:23.
[ back ] 22. “Aristotle’s main point is polemical … Aristotle explicitly rejects the view of those who want to find anticipations of Thales’ statement that water is the arche of things in the old theologizing poets … Aristotle, in other words, argues that Hippias’ parallels are not conclusive,” 1990:88–89.
[ back ] 23. Snell 1944, Classen 1965, Patzer 1986, esp. chapters 2–3, and Mansfeld 1990, esp. 84–96.
[ back ] 24. “It is probable that the aims of Protagoras and certain that those of Gorgias were polemical. It is also certain that Gorgias’ classification was not set out for its own sake but as part of a larger argument, and likely that the same would hold good for Protagoras’ polemics,” Mansfeld 1990:27.
[ back ] 25. Karl Popper, for example, saw in them the articulation of a “new faith of the open society, the faith in man, in equalitarian justice, and in human reason,” Popper 1962:189. Eric Havelock, in turn, laments the fact that their world–view did not prevail. If it had, argues Havelock, modern Europe would have looked much different: “Had their doctrine been allowed to prevail and influence the mind of Europe at a crucial stage in its development, who is to say what happier and sunnier societies would not have in time arisen on the plains of Gaul and Germany?” Havelock 1957:308.
[ back ] 26. Cf. Ford 1993:45: “Nevertheless, the Sophists even now seem to remain to the side of philosophy, for the common academic divisions of ancient philosophy tend to keep them in a kind of protective isolation.” It is important to note that the sophists’ otherness has been expressed not only in negative terms. There are also those who, like Untersteiner 1954 and Kerferd 1981, defend the sophists’ intellectual seriousness and ascribe to it an equal value as that of, say, Plato and Aristotle. These scholars also assume that the sophists are qualitatively different from their predecessors and successors, but this time the difference conveys positive connotations. Consider, for example, the sympathetic treatment that the sophists receive by Untersteiner. He draws a sharp distinction between the scientific philosophy of the Presocratics and the humanistic philosophy of the sophists. Their teaching is described as, “the coming of humanism, which was destined to lead sophistic philosophy on to ground very different from that of the scientific philosophy which preceded it,” xv.
[ back ] 27. Montiglio 2000:92. Cf. Montiglio 2005.
[ back ] 28. In the Gorgias, for example, Plato’s main objective seems to be to separate philosophy from rhetoric, and to locate the activities of the sophists in the latter category: ταὐτό … ἐστὶν σοφιστὴς καὶ ῥήτωρ, ἢ ἐγγύς τι καὶ παραπλήσιον (520a). For a discussion of the Platonic strategies at work in the Gorgias, see McCoy 2008, esp. 85–110. For modern proponents of the importance of rhetoric for the sophists, see e.g. Gomperz 1912 and Harrison 1964.
[ back ] 29. “Plato felt the sophists’ art of λόγος was in danger of being ubiquitous and hence in need of definitional constraint,” Sciappa 1990:467. See also Sciappa 1991, and Cole 1991.
[ back ] 30. Sciappa 1990:457. But see Pendrick’s 1998 criticism of Schiappa’s argument: “the significance that Schiappa attributes to Plato’s supposed invention of the name and notion of rhetoric appears illusory, despite the formidable array of modern theorizing he summons in support of his contentions. The term ῥητορική itself certainly antedated its appearance in the Gorgias, and there is no reason to think that Plato either invented or redefined it in the way, and with the motives, Schiappa suggests,” 22.
[ back ] 31. Nightingale 1995:72.
[ back ] 32. For a discussion of the distinction that Plato establishes between philosophers and sophists through his elaboration of the nature of rhetoric, see McCoy 2008.
[ back ] 33. This interest in the workings of language ranged from rhetoric, grammar, philosophy of language and linguistic theory to literary criticism. For examples and discussion, see Kerferd 1981:68–77 and Barney 2006:90–94.
[ back ] 34. Lloyd 1979:81n112.
[ back ] 35. For a discussion of the attribution of the discovery of dialectic to Zeno, see Kerferd 1981:59–67.
[ back ] 36. Kerferd 1981:71.
[ back ] 37. Griffith 1990:187.
[ back ] 38. Sophistical Refutations 165a21; cf. 183b36–184b8 and Nichomachean Ethics 1164a30.
[ back ] 39. 1004b25–26: ἔστι δὲ ἡ διαλεκτικὴ πειραστικὴ περὶ ὧν ἡ φιλοσοφία γνωριστική, ἡ δὲ σοφιστικὴ φαινομένη, οὖσα δ’ οὔ.
[ back ] 40. Sophist 268c–d.
[ back ] 41. Cynegeticus 13.8: οἱ σοφισταὶ δ’ ἐπὶ τῷ ἐξαπατᾶν λέγουσι καὶ γράφουσιν ἐπὶ τῷ ἑαυτῶν κέρδει, καὶ οὐδένα οὐδὲν ὠφελοῦσιν.
[ back ] 42. Bett 1989:140–141, points out that relativism as a term is modern coinage without original application to ancient philosophy. As for a definition, he states that relativism “is the thesis that statements in a certain domain can be deemed correct or incorrect only relative to some framework,” 141. For a detailed discussion of this definition, see 141–145. See also Woodruff 1999:300.
[ back ] 43. Cf. Bett 1989:139, esp. n1, who also provides a list of modern scholars who assume that the sophists subscribed to relativism.
[ back ] 44. For examples, see Bett 1989:149.
[ back ] 45. “There is but one Sophist, Protagoras, whom we have any reason to regard as a relativist in any deep or interesting sense. It is not entirely clear whether even he deserves this label,” Bett 1989:139.
[ back ] 46. Kerferd 1981:22. Cf. Kerferd 1981:15: “Nonetheless they all came to Athens and it is clear that Athens for some sixty years in the second half of the fifth century B.C. was the real centre of the sophistic movement.” Guthrie 1971:40, expresses a similar view: “They were foreigners, provincials whose genius had outgrown the confines of their own minor cities … At Athens, the centre of Hellenic culture at the height of its fame and power, ‘the very headquarter of Greek wisdom’ as Plato’s Hippias calls it (Protagoras 337d), they could flourish.” Romilly 1992:18, also stresses the importance of Athens and its lack of predecessors: “But the fact remains that it is in Athens that we find them all … Were it not for Athens, we should probably not even know the name ‘Sophists’. And even if we did, it would have no meaning or interest. Without doubt, the vogue for the Sophists only came about thanks to a catalyst which Periclean Athens alone could provide.”
[ back ] 47. Romilly 1992:213. Havelock 1957:230, an even stronger proponent of the close ties on the part of the sophists with democratic ideals, states: “Beginning with the sociology attributed to Protagoras with its rationality, its humanity, its historical depth, continuing with the pragmatism which seeks to understand the common man’s virtues and failings and to guide his decisions by a flexible calculus of what is good and useful, and ending with a theory of group discourse as a negotiation of opinion leading to agreed decisions, we are steadily invited to keep our eye not upon the authoritarian leader, but upon the average man as citizen of this society and a voter in his parliament.” See also Reimar Müller: “There can be no doubt that the sophistic movement as such, without the notion of democracy, is unthinkable,” quoted from Wallace 1998:205. Cf. Sciappa 1991:169–171.
[ back ] 48. Wallace 1998:205.
[ back ] 49. Thomas 2000:1–16, esp. 10.
[ back ] 50. For sources on Gorgias’ dates, see Guthrie 1971:269 and Kerferd 1981:44. For his visit to Athens as the chief-ambassador of Leontini, see Diodorus Siculus 12.53, 1–5 = DK 82A4.
[ back ] 51. Protagoras 310e.
[ back ] 52. Robinson 2007:22.
[ back ] 53. Lloyd (1979, esp. 226–267 and 1990, esp. 60–65), drawing on the work of Jean-Pierre Vernant (1982), stresses the importance of the rise of the polis-structure—and its concomitant institution of (more or less) free speech and debate, political participation, and public scrutiny and accountability—for the development of scientific rationality in ancient Greece.
[ back ] 54. Lloyd 1990:63: “the ideology of the democracy provided a powerful statement of one point that is fundamental for other areas of Greek self-conscious rationality, namely the principle that in the evaluation of an argument it is the argument that counts, not the authority.” Cf. Lloyd 1990:64: “it might be conjectured that the possibility of radical questioning in the political sphere may have released inhibitions about such questioning in other domains.”
[ back ] 55. Lloyd 1990:62 and 65–67.
[ back ] 56. Lloyd’s thesis is not without its problems and has recently been subjected to criticism by Richard Seaford (2004:175–189), who sees the spread of coinage, not democratic ideology, as a fundamental cultural transformation that contributed to the emergence of philosophy and tragedy.
[ back ] 57. For the evidence, see Lloyd 1979:87n146 and n147.
[ back ] 58. Lloyd 1987:83.
[ back ] 59. See Kerferd 1976:17n2.
[ back ] 60. Kerferd 1976:1–18 gives the following summary of this development: “1. skill in a particular craft, especially handicraft, 2. prudence or wisdom in general matters, especially practical and political wisdom, 3. scientific, theoretic or philosophic wisdom.”
[ back ] 61. “[T]his sequence is artificial and unhistorical, being essentially based on Aristotle and his attempt to schematize the history of thought before his own time within a framework illustrating his own view about the nature of philosophy, above all that it proceeds from the particular to the universal,” Kerferd 1981:24.
[ back ] 62. Kerferd 1981:24.
[ back ] 63. “They are such not in virtue of techniques or special skills, but in virtue of the content of their thinking and teaching, their wisdom or Sophia,” Kerferd 1976:28. Cf. Gernet (1981:357), who traces a similar genealogy of philosophy. He argues that philosophy owes much to the mystical sects of the archaic period, and when discussing the elusive figures connected with these sects (Abaris, Aristeas, Epimenides, Hermotimus, Pherecydes, and the rest) he writes: “What is the nature of this prerogative they proclaim and authorize for themselves? It has two elements, but is still one: these men are in special and direct contact with divinity, and this contact is manifested by the miraculous revelation they are granted.” Later (361), Gernet discusses Empedocles and sees in his practices and traits “the relic of the ‘king-magician,’ one whose unique character and authority derive from his ability to control nature, from his infused science of divination, and from his miraculous feats of prehistoric ‘medicine.’ ”
[ back ] 64. Cf. Griffith 1990:188–189, who argues for a tripartite division of sophia: “(a) knowledge and factual accuracy (the sophos-poet knows how things were and are, tells them ‘truly,’ gets names, pedigrees, and events right, and is therefore valuable to the community as a repository of information); (b) moral and educational integrity (the sophos presents advice or instruction, or unambiguous examples of good and bad conduct, by which the community is supposed to be collectively and individually improved); (c) technical skill and aesthetic/emotional impact (the sophos’ uncanny verbal, musical and histrionic powers can excite the ear and the eye as well as the mind, dazzle and delight an audience, and arouse in it irresistible feelings of wonder, sympathetic engagement, and emotional release—‘tears and laughter,’ ‘pity and fear.’ ”
[ back ] 65. Kerferd 1976:27: “No matter that in different contexts and for different writers the content of such wisdom may vary—of course it does. But these are not variations in the meaning of the term, nor do they justify us in attempting to trace ‘stages’ in the development of its meaning. So far as meaning is concerned there is throughout a single concept of ‘wisdom.’ ”
[ back ] 66. Kerferd 1976:23: “Thus it is no longer possible to maintain that words are receptacles containing fixed and defined meanings which it is the proper function of scholarship to identify as such. Rather they must be seen as acquiring and retaining particularised meanings only in particular linguistic and social contexts.”
[ back ] 67. Cf. Sciappa’s (1995:38) discussion of a “nominalist approach” when defining philosophy: “those people or ideas that are self-identified as philosophical or are considered such by their peers are, presumptively, part of the history of philosophy. Such an approach avoids claims about who is ‘really’ a philosopher and who is not, and instead asks the question: Who are the people and what are the ideas that have tried explicitly to join the conversation known as philosophy? Apart from what philosophy may mean to us today, what has it meant to thinkers in other places and times?”
[ back ] 68. “Anyone could set himself up as a philosopher or as a sophist or, come to that, as a doctor. You depended not on legally recognised qualifications … nor even simply on accreditation … What you had to rely on, largely, was your own wits and personality,” Lloyd 1987:103.
[ back ] 69. For a good discussion of Bourdieu’s use of field, see Wacquant 1998.
[ back ] 70. To Bourdieu, this contestation has important political ramifications, since, to him, all intellectual positions are at the same time political: “Then we realize how overdetermined, both politically and academically, are the options selected as philosophically significant for the chosen theoretical line, on the strictly philosophical plane (which is doubtless supposed to be untainted by any political or academic considerations). There is no philosophical option—neither one that promotes intuition, for instance, nor, at the other extreme, one that favours judgement or concepts, nor yet one that gives precedence to the Transcendental Aesthetic over the Transcendental Analytic, or poetry over discursive language—which does not entail its concomitant academic and political options, and which does not owe to these secondary, more or less unconsciously assumed options, some of its deepest determinations,” Bourdieu 1991:57.
[ back ] 71. Wacquant 1998:222.
[ back ] 72. In this context, it is useful to call to mind, as Bourdieu often does in his writing, that the literal meaning of the Greek word for “to categorize” (κατηγορεῖν) means “to accuse publicly.”
[ back ] 73. “The philosophical field is undoubtedly the first scholastic field to have constituted itself by achieving autonomy with respect to the developing political field and the religious field, in Greece in the 5th century BC,” Bourdieu 2000:18.
[ back ] 74. “The category of sophist, in Plato himself, as well as elsewhere, is far from hard-edged, and there were important overlaps not only between sophists and natural philosophers but also and more especially between sophists and medical writers or lecturers,” Lloyd 1987:93. Cf. Thomas 2000:21: “It is increasingly clear that there are few demarcations between the various groups who may be categorized by modern scholars as Presocratics, natural philosophers, sophists, doctors—even if you accept, for instance, the distinction that sophists share their wisdom for money, the interests and methods of prominent individual sophists, as conventionally labeled (e.g. Protagoras, Prodicus) are by no means entirely distinct from some of the physiologoi or natural philosophers or from certain writers in the Hippocratic Corpus.”
[ back ] 75. Nightingale 2000.
[ back ] 76. Wallace 1998:205. Cf. Wallace 2007. See also Ostwald 1986:259n: “the Athenian public made no attempt to differentiate sophists from philosophers;” Sciappa 1995:45: “The distinctions familiar to us between ‘sophistry’ and ‘philosophy’ from Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings were by no means commonly known—let alone accepted—by most people during most of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.”
[ back ] 77. Martin 1993.