The Ancient Use of Σοφιστής
Plato’s Sophistic Genealogy
We should thus be sufficiently warned neither to reify the term σοφιστής nor even to assume that it applies to specific individuals. It is true that Plato and Isocrates are in agreement that both Protagoras and Gorgias should be counted among the sophists, but the disagreement—particularly with regard to Solon, Empedocles, and Parmenides—is significant enough to underscore their widely different positions on sophistry and philosophy. I have focused on the difference between Plato and Isocrates in their understanding and application of “sophist” and “philosopher.” One could of course argue that an exploration of how Xenophon and Aristotle use these terms might give more weight to the Platonic evidence in favor of Isocrates. But both Xenophon and Aristotle are heavily indebted to the Platonic position and add surprisingly little by way of new or dissenting material on the sophists. One might equally complain over the lack of consideration of later evidence from, say, Philostratus and the rest, but here the difficulty is both the strong echoes of Plato, on the one hand, and the distance in time, on the other. What makes Isocrates so relevant is precisely his position as a contemporary of Plato—and one with a dissenting view on philosophy and sophistry.