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Related to sophist: Socrates, Plato, Protagoras


one of the pre-Socratic philosophers who were itinerant professional teachers of oratory and argument and who were prepared to enter into debate on any matter however specious
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a term with two meanings in ancient Greek literature. First, the term referred to any intelligent, resourceful, clever, and knowledgeable person, sometimes a person of a specialized profession. Second, the designation “Sophists” was used in a narrower sense, to designate the philosophers and teachers of wisdom and rhetoric in the second half of the fifth century B.C. and the first half of the fourth century B.C. who were the first in Greece to teach their art for a fee. The most important Sophists were Protagoras, Gorgias, Hippias, Prodicus, Antiphon, and Cri-tias. The Sophists were not a homogeneous group. They differed in their sociopolitical views; Protagoras, for example, sympathized with slaveholders’ democracy, whereas Critias was an enemy of democracy. They also differed in their attitude toward previous Greek philosophy; Protagoras, for example, built on the ideas of Heraclitus, whereas Gorgias and Antiphon began with the ideas of the Eleatic school. Furthermore, they differed in their own philosophic ideas.

Several common traits may be distinguished in the Sophists’ philosophy, including a shift of philosophic concerns from natural philosophy to ethics, politics, and the theory of knowledge. The Sophists urged the study of man himself and his subjective characteristics, and in doing this often approached relativism and subjectivism. The ideas of the Sophists became an integral element of ancient Greek philosophy and influenced not only Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Megarian school, and the Cynics, but also the philosophy of Hellenism as a whole, including Neoplatonism.

Sophistry began degenerating as early as the fourth century B.C. (Euthydemus and others). The Sophists gradually became verbal jugglers ready to defend or refute any idea by means of specious arguments and the other methods described in detail by Aristotle in Sophistical Refutations.

“The second or new Sophistic movement” is the name that has been given to a literary current of the second century A.D. that tried to revive the classical Greek ideas and style of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Members of this movement were erudite and had an excellent knowledge of the preceding Greek literature; the only one who came close to continuing the traditions of the Sophists in the proper sense of the term, however, was Lucian.


Diels, H. von. Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 12th ed. Berlin, 1966.
In Russian translation:
Makovel’skii, A. O. Sofisty, fases. 1–2. Baku, 1940–41.


Hegel, G. W. F. Soch., vol. 10. Moscow-Leningrad, 1932. Pages 3–33.
Giliarov, A. N. Grecheskie sofisty. Moscow, 1888.
Chernyshev, B. S. Sofisty. Moscow, 1929.
Losev, A. F. Istoriia antichnoi estetiki; Sofisty, Sokrat, Platon. Moscow, 1969.
Dupréel, F. Les Sophistes. Paris-Neuchâtel, 1948.
Gomperz, H. Sophistik und Rhetorik. Leipzig, 1965. (Reprint.)
Jaeger, W. W. Paideia, vol. 1. Berlin, 1959.
Guthrie, W. K. A History of Greek Philosophy. Cambridge, 1969. Pages 1–322.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Hutchinson has suggested, the roots of this dispute reach back at least as far as the sophist Protagoras (30).
(44) Clearly this hierophant had achieved a social and political status similar to that enjoyed by Apollonios the sophist and hierophant.
Although we cannot be certain what Gorgias intended in the three works examined here, McComisky's reading of these texts with a view toward understanding the Sophist on his own terms (rather than on Plato's) provides interpretations that are well argued, interesting, and useful.
Unfortunately, it neglects Ficino's analysis of the Sophist, the companion piece for Ficino of the Parmenides since he identified its speaker, the mysterious Stranger, with Melissus, Parmenides' disciple, the two dialogues constituting in his mind the pinnacle of Plato's metaphysical and dialectical achievement.
From The Dream, which enacts a conte st between Art and Paideia for the young Lucian, to The Hall, where art and speech vie for the soul of an audience, there are many passages dedicated to explicating the life and work of the "sophist." The agonistic tenor of this project is predictably charged with the language and imagery of desire.
Plato's response to these objections in the later dialogues, she argues, is bound up with two new developments: first, the "teleology of order" advocated at Philebus 28-30, according to which the cosmos contains within itself the principles of its own order and intelligibility, and second, Plato's rejection of foundationalism in the Theaetetus in favor of a "holistic epistemology" advocated in the Sophist and reflected in the later dialogues' promotion of the method of collection and division.
A primary text for Howland's claim that Plato's Eleatic wants to bring this charge against Plato's Socrates is a somewhat strained reading of what the Eleatic says in the Sophist about the "well-born" and unmistakably Socratic sophist - by saying that this elenctic sophist educator makes his students more gentle toward others, Howland suggests, the Eleatic ironically emphasizes for the alert reader just how angry and ungentle Socrates' pupils/patients truly become.
495--429 B.C.), the great Athenian statesman who, it is said, asked the Sophist to draft a constitution for the Greek colony of Thurii in southern Italy.
Paul came to Corinth aware of what people there would expect of a sophist, a professional speaker, but quite determined to resist such expectations.
Many of the essayists discuss the ways in which the revival of pragmatism or the excavation of the Sophist tradition might quicken the removal of unwanted hierarchies within the American academy.
[Having been a pupil of his father (for he was a sophist, whose school they say Alcibiades attended when a boy), and having acquired power at speaking, as some think through his natural ability, he began a public career, set up a school and had his disagreement with Socrates on the matter of words, not contentiously hut for argument's sake, as Xenophon has narrated in his Memoirs.]
."], were inspired by this phrase from Plato's The Sophist: Stranger: The appearances which spring up of themselves in sleep or by day, such as a shadow when darkness arises in a fire .