I really wish that people wouldn't claim that everything they disagreed with was FUD. It causes the term itself to lose whatever small measure of interesting meaning it once had.
Do you think it is actually a fact that there were an entire class of itinerant teachers who arose in the Greek city-states as democracy was becoming widespread who "had little regard for the logic or truth of their arguments?" Do you think many would pay such people to educate their children? Or could it be that this characterization was spread by thier critics in order to discredit them? Could this slander against the Sophists be nothing but old fashioned FUD?
Maybe. But then again, maybe I think that because I've read the works of prominent Sophists, and came to that conclusion on my own. I think it would be appropriate if you didn't always assume that I had read nothing of the literature on the subject.
As to why people would pay them, there is significant evidence that they were effective speakers, and that speaking effectively was a valued talent in Athens, all the more so because of the democracy, and the way the assembly worked. Thus, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that people would still pay for their services, even if their project was not a philosophical, but a rhetorical one.
Again, I say, look at the context. The Assembly in Athens allowed the lowest classes (of adult male citizens) a chance to acquire power based solely on their ability to stand up in front of everyone and give speeches that influenced the vote. From the point of view of their class this was a great opportunity, and a chance to take power away from aristocrats based on merit rather than wealth and connections. But you could look at is in a negative light too, and say that it was a chance for scoundrels to fool the mob with cheap rhetorical tricks and flattery. The Sophists were a natural target for those who opposed this new form of government. Along with the Rhetoriticians, they represented democracy and all that came with it, both good and ill. Those who truly knew how to rule (the aristocrats) would be pushed aside by clever word play, and it was the Sophists who were teaching these dirty tricks.
Both of these perspectives on democracy are correct. I think we both know the Churchill quote on the subject.
The Sophists did not represent the positive aspects of democracy nearly as much, however. Take the might makes right doctrines of Thrasymachus, for example (Republic I). Even Thucydides recognized the potential perils of the Assembly being convinced by the wrong speech. (History, Book III, 36).
Socrates, an aristocrat who apparently never worked nd never took money for teaching, seemed to be doing exactly the same things as the Sophists in all other respects. But they were aiding the radicalization of democracy and helping to shift power away from those of his own class, whom Socrates thought more fit to rule.
I hope you know better than to actually believe this statement. Socrates was a stonemason at least in the beginning of his life, as his father was. Furthermore, the only evidence I've ever seen for his having wealth was his service in the heavy infantry. In the Apology, he professes to be able to pay litte, until his aristocratic friends offer their own money. Again in the Crito he states that he doesn't have the money to buy his way out of prison. He was certainly not a member of the aristocracy, although he was supported by many of them.
So he picks at them especially for taking money for their services, and claims that they care nothing for truth, and belittles their skills at logic. This is similar to the rule allowing only amateurs to participate in the modern Olympic Games, as a way of excluding the lower classes who lacked the leisure time to pursue these arts for their own sake. You can see how the aristocratic and anti-democratic Socrates would want to distance himself from the Sophists, even though he essentially did exactly what they did, and built on their prior work.
Well, admitting that would require admitting that Socrates was aristocratic and anti-democratic, which I'm not willing to do. I also disagree that Socrates did exactly what they did. The Sophists, for example, taught people rhetoric, and how to win arguments. There is no evidence that I have seen that Socrates was a teacher of rhetoric.
And exactly how did he build on their prior work?
To me the generalization the most fits the Sophists was that they were social critics and skeptics, often radical skeptics.
Many of them were skeptics, even to the point of the nihilism of Gorgias, which was a distortion of the real Eleatic philosophy. However, I find little evidence of social criticsm in their work, what little of it survives. Plato and Socrates both criticized the existing order of things (how could they not, given their anti-democratic stance, as you claim?). If you have citations for this social critique, please, point it out.
Unlike Socrates and Plato, and especially Aristotle, who frequently took whatever Greek conventional wisdom took for granted and supported it with post hoc justifications, the Sophists called it all into question.
Anyone who calls Aristotle a social critic is crazy. But what else could you call a philosopher who advocates a total revamping of society, as Plato does?
For example, none of these great thinkers in ancient Greece ever criticized or questioned the belief that slavery was natural and good, except one group: the Sophists. That alone should intrigue you.
That does indeed intrigue me. Could you provide some pointers to texts that I could read? Thanks.
If they cared nothing for truth, but Socrates and Plato did, why didn't Plato and Socrates ever wonder if this was fair? Could it be that they were susceptible to being deluded by self-interest and prejudice on issues like slavery? But the Sophists, with their willingness to say that mere human laws are infinitely changeable, and are only the result of what people say they are, could look past those prejudices. That is a dangerous thing, but also a useful one.
Well, Aristotle is best associated with justification of slavery. However, it is correct that Plato and Socrates never attacked this institution, although Socrates was willing to engage anyone, even a slave, in dialogue, and believe that all people, even slaves, had innate knowledge. This is clearly a failing. However, it says nothing about whether or not they were interested in truth, or whether the Sophists were.
Looking at the kind of things the Sophists actually said, sure we have examples of `sophistry' in the vernacular sense, as in Gorgias' proof that nothing exists. You may regard that as a denial that there is any truth, but I think it is a useful reminder that clever words are deceptive, and can "prove" anything you wish. This is what Gorgias meant in his defense of Helen. As the Sophist Antiphon said, "There are two opposing arguments concerning everything." And most famously, "Man is the measure of all things-- of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not."
This proves precisely my point. The Sophists were interested in the argument, and not the truth. Gorgias' "proof" is a demonstration of rhetorical skill. The fact that it is illogical is neither a flaw nor a benifit, it is simply irrelevant. And that's precisely the position that I, and Plato, take exception to.
With regard to the trial of Socrates, I don't really feel like writing a long essay on it, so I am pleased to have discovered online the very source of this interpretation of those events, in this interview with I.F. Stone. Maybe this needs to be an MLP. Since you seem to like footnotes and quotations, I think you will appreciate it, and will be able to use it as a guide to examine the relevant evidence yourself. To really go in depth, you should find Stone's book, The Trial of Socrates.
Thanks for the link. Although I disagree with most of what Stone says, it's very interesting, and I will go find his book. I hope you put it up as MLP, at which point I will write at greater length on why I think it's a weak argument.
Finally, these statements should be an embarrassment to you:
Second, neither you or I have any idea what was on the jury's mind. We have no statement by them, merely what they voted.
I find neither of those statement to be an embarrassement, and stand by both of them.
Third, I take significant exception to your claim that Socrates was "an opponent of democracy". This is untrue and unfounded. Such a remarkable claim requires evidence.
The first one is thoroughly refuted in the I.F. Stone interview. Athens was a direct democracy. We know what was on their minds by what they did. Their policies were what they thought. Want to know what the Athenians thought? Look at Athenian history. If we can claim to know anything about what Socrates thought, we can at least make a good estimate of what the Athenian citizens were thinking.
Stone does no such thing. He, like you or I, is entirely unable to know why the jury convicted him. His only piece of evidence is a single sentence for a speech made fifty years later, which could be interpreted to mean any number of things.
Knowing how a group voted is not enough to tell us what they though. Perhaps they were swayed by the persuasive powers of Meletus. Perhaps they were insulted by Socrates' speech. Perhaps they convicted him for being a religous deviant, and for starting a new cult, of which his corruption of Critias was only a manifestation. 
It is simply impossible to tell which of these most influenced the jury. You, especially, since you are unwilling to accept claims about Socrates given his lack of writings, should understand this.
As far as the idea that Socrates was not anti-democratic, WTF? It makes me wonder if you are just trolling.
Well, since I haven't been asking lots of question about virtue, I haven't been using the Socratic method, so I can't have been trolling. :-)
Seriously, that kind of attack is entirely uncalled for, and so blatantly out of line that I'm very surprised you made it. Have you ever seen a troll cite Conford. Really, you should apologize.
How often does Socrates say things like "When a man is in training, does he pay attention to all praise and criticism and opinion indiscriminately, or only when it comes from the one qualified person, the actual doctor or trainer?... he should be afraid of the criticism and welcome the praise of the one qualified person, but not those of the general public" (Crito 47c). He uses that kind of analogy again and again.
The statement that a professional is more skilled in the art of training is neither a controversial, nor an undemocratic one. It is, for example, the basis of our entire modern education system. If you didn't think that your professors could better educate you than the people you meet on the street, why did you go to college?
Why? It is an attack on what he saw as mob rule. This is the whole point of the Apology. Noble man condemned by mobocracy. Recall in the Euthyphro when Socrates meets a man on his way to prosecute his own father for murder outside the magistrate? What is the point of showing this terrible son going to abuse the law to do this awful thing? Look at the context. The laws of Athens had been democratized to allow any adult male citizen to prosecute a case against anyone else. This was a radical break form the past, where no crime was prosecuted except by the victim or his family. Crimes against the poor, foreigners or slaves (as in the Euthyphro) could go unpunished because there was no one to bring a case on their behalf. The new law allowed anyone to play the role of prosecutor, meaning that a much greater portion of the populace had a chance at justice, and Plato's dialogue is an attack on that. He is saying that such a system is abused to evil purposes by wicked men like Euthyphro.
That's certainly one potential interpretation of the dialogue. However, there's no suggestion by Socrates that the servant that Euthyphro's father killed should be defended by his family. Socrates is surprised by Euthyphro's unconventional attitude, something I find unremarkable. Euthyphro then claims to be an authority on piety, and the dialogue continues from there. I find it a strech to suggest that this is an attack on the system of law as you describe.
Furthermore, there is no suggestion that Euthyphro is wicked, merely that he, like most, thinks he knows about things that he doesn't.
Later of course, when Socrates becomes purely a mouthpiece for Plato, as in the Republic, democracy is even further denigrated.
This is certainly correct. Plato was not a fan of democracy, in large part because, as he saw it, democracy killed his mentor.
There is nothing extraordinary about this claim; Socrates' contempt for democracy is found in nearly everything he says. I would instead challenge you to show me any argument he makes in favor of ordinary men being allowed to run their own state. Where does he not come down foursquare against the rule by the many?
Ok, you want citations, I'll give you citations.
That's enough for now. I rarely do point by point refutations, because it is too much work. Go and read I.F. Stone's argument, and follow the references to the original texts. And maybe read some of the actual words of the Sophists and the pre-Socratics, rather than just what Plato has to say about them. They are not at all the fools or scoundrels he makes them out to be.
- He refers repeatedly to the virtue of Athens, and it's greatness, and the greatness of it's citizens. (Apology 29d-e)
- He refers to the "crimes" of the Thirty. (Apology 32d)
- His speech on behalf of "the Laws" defends democracy. (Crito 51c-e)
- However, the clearest statement I know off the top of my head in favor of democracy is in the Protagoras, where he describes how the Assembly listens to any and all on matters of politics, where on technical matters they only listen to experts. To quote Socrates, "well-born, low-born - it doesn't matter - ... nobody blasts him for presuming to give counsel without any prior training under a teacher". So here we have Socrates, great believer in the benifits of listening to experts, saying that we should listen to common people and rich people alike on the matters of politics. I don't see what more you could want. (Protagoras, 319d-e)
Try to refrain from ad hominem attacks, especially when you are wrong about them. I've read plenty of the Presocratics, including the Sophists, although they didn't leave behind much work.
CCW Taylor, Socrates: A Very Short Introduction.
Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
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