Plato’s Counterfeit Sophists

  Tell, Håkan. 2011. Plato's Counterfeit Sophists. Hellenic Studies Series 44. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.


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

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:” [5]

The intellectual ostracism of the sophists was upheld and furthered by Aristotle. [
7] 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.

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): [14]

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.

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. [
15] Hippias also seems to have assumed that all contemporary thinking was derived from older predecessors; [16] 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. [17] 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. [18]

Sophistic Distinctiveness

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.

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.

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.” [46] 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. [

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. [
53] 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. [54] From the point of view of Lloyd’s thesis, with its emphasis on democratic ideology over realities, [55] 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. [56]

Greek Conceptions of Wisdom

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. [
59] 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. [60] 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. [61] 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.” [62] This knowledge, in turn, was divinely inspired—always pertaining to content; and the content in question was education—the turf par excellence of sophoi. [63]

Methodological Preliminaries

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. [69] 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. [70] 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.” [71] 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. [72]

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. [74] 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. [75] Robert Wallace, too, has pointed out that “[i]n fifth-century texts the distinction between sophist and philosopher was not made.” [76] 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. [77] 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.