The Spicy Lotus

October 17, 2010

Sophist, Plato

Filed under: Uncategorized — pha9 @ 3:11 pm

The sophist is one of the series of dialogues that Plato wrote near the end of his life. It was supposed to be a trilogy with separate dialogues covering the meaning of the sophist, the statesman, and the philosopher. I believe that it was intended to be a series of steps that you should strive for in your life and each position is better than the next until you become a revered philosopher.

Most of the dialogue covers familiar themes: Sophists are interested in influencing opinion in exchange for money. They are not seeking truth, but only the appearance of truth. They don’t have real knowledge, only the appearance of knowledge. Socrates defines the sophist through a series of divisions that are entertaining. For example, the sophist is involved in the acquisitive instead of the productive arts, he is a hunter of men and not animals, he is interested in learning of the soul and not the body, etc.

The second part of the dialogue is harder to follow and involves what it means when we say something “is” or exists. In this second part, Socrates tackles the claim that Parmenides made that there cannot be false opinion or idea. He also attacks Parmenides claim that everything is really just one thing. I believe all this is just background information that one needs to define the sophist, because for the sophist to have false beliefs, false beliefs must exist.

In any case, Socrates has laid out the basis for the trilogy, so it will be interesting to see how the statesman differs from the sophist. Interestingly, the philosopher was never written by Plato, perhaps because he died before he wrote it, or perhaps because we are supposed to do the work ourselves and figure out what it means to be a philosopher.



  1. There are six ways or classifications to define the sophist. He is a wage earning hunter of the young and wealthy. He is a traveling salesman for learning of the soul. He is a local merchant of learning for the soul. He is a seller of his own production of learning. He is an athlete in the competitive art concerned with speeches. And finally, he is a purifier of opinions that are impediments to learning.

    All these were determined in the beginning of the dialogue by the stranger basically breaking down the definition of the sophist in a flow chart.

    Comment by pha9 — October 17, 2010 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

  2. The sophists lack true knowledge, but they have a reputation for knowledge. Modern day sophists include politicians, pundits, and even many journalists. But I guess the real trick is to decide which people have true knowledge and which people just have a reputation for knowledge. The visitor goes on to equate sophists with imitators because they imitate real knowledge much like painters imitate real life. He uses the word conjurer which I think is a good way to describe the sophist because it includes the idea of some mystical way of getting people to agree with you.

    Comment by pha — October 22, 2010 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  3. Now the visitor continues to try to determine what is and what is not. He says that some imitations are likenesses and some imitations are more representations and are less real in that way. But it is difficult to think or analyze something that is not real. How could someone do that?

    Comment by pha — October 22, 2010 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  4. So we will dispute Parmenides claim that “what is not” cannot exist by showing that “what is” is in some sense “what is not” and “what is not” is in some sense “what is”.

    Comment by pha9 — October 22, 2010 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

  5. The visitor dispatches the argument of the materialists pretty easily. He says that if you only believe that physical objects are real, then you cannot believe in the soul. I would like to adapt this idea and think about thoughts as being non-physical existing things. Obviously, I don’t believe in a soul and I don’t believe in something that carries on after we die. So I am replacing thoughts with the soul as an example for the argument.

    Now, I would agree that thoughts are real. After all, am I not having a thought right now? Furthermore, this thought is affecting my actions because, in this case, I am writing it down. So how can something that does not exist affect my actions? Therefore, thoughts must be real, although they are not physical objects. So the materialists argument makes no sense.

    Comment by pha9 — October 22, 2010 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

  6. According to the friends of the forms, there are two types of being: Changing and Unchanging. The visitor says that we can think of the soul or reasoning as the unchanging and the body or perception as the changing.

    Comment by pha9 — October 22, 2010 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

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