Sophist (dialogue)

Sophist (dialogue)

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The Sophist is a Platonic dialogue from the philosopher's late period, most likely written in 360 BCE. Having criticized his Theory of Forms
Theory of Forms
Plato's theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract forms , and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. When used in this sense, the word form is often capitalized...

 in the Parmenides, Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 presents a new conception of the forms in the Sophist, more mundane and down-to-earth than its predecessor. The dialogue clarifies the epistemological and metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 puzzles of the Parmenides; thus, Plato refers to that text - a dialogue between Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

 and young Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

, which was written probably much earlier than the Sophist. Furthermore, he shows his expertise in dialectic
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

, as he applies it in this dialogue
Dialogue
Dialogue is a literary and theatrical form consisting of a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people....

 in order to define the sophist. Moreover, he solves the puzzle of the false and the right opinion, as well as of the justified true belief
Justified true belief
Justified true belief is one definition of knowledge that states in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but one must also have justification for doing so. In more formal terms, a subject S knows that a proposition P is true if,...

that had been inquired in the Theaetetus. In addition to being a sequel of sorts to the Theaetetus, the Sophist looks forward in tone and methodology to the Statesman.

Introduction


This dialogue takes place a day after Plato's Theaetetus, and aims at defining the sophist. The participants are Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

, who plays a minor role, the highly promising young student Theaetetus
Theaetetus
Theaetetus could mean:* Theaetetus , a Greek geometer* Theaetetus , a dialogue by Plato, named after the geometer* Theaetetus , a lunar impact crater....

, and a visitor from Elea
Elea
Elea may refer to:* Elea, ancient name of an Italian Greek colony, now known as Velia**Eleatics, school of pre-Socratic philosophers at Elea* Elea, Kyrenia, a settlement of Cyprus in Kyrenia District...

, the hometown of Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

, who plays the major role in the conversation. Plato probably replaces Socrates with the visitor from Elea, because he plans to criticize Parmenides’ notion that ‘we cannot speak or think of what is not’ (reference to the dialogue Parmenides between Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

 and young Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

). Here Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's strategy is to distinguish the negation of the being from the not-being, and to define the right and the false opinion by the use of dialectic
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

.
The visitor sets out to define the Sophist, the Statesman
Statesman
A statesman is usually a politician or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career in politics or government at the national and international level. As a term of respect, it is usually left to supporters or commentators to use the term...

 and the Philosopher, claiming that they are three distinct human types. The definition of the sophist aims at verbal explanation and requires knowledge of the nature of the kinds, as well as of their ability of blending.

Method of definition



In this dialogue Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 follows a new method of definition by the use of a model, comparison of the model with the target kind, division
Diairesis
Diaeresis is used as a technical term in Platonic and Stoic philosophy.- Plato's method of definition :...

 (diairesis
Diairesis
Diaeresis is used as a technical term in Platonic and Stoic philosophy.- Plato's method of definition :...

), collection, and deduction
Deductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning, also called deductive logic, is reasoning which constructs or evaluates deductive arguments. Deductive arguments are attempts to show that a conclusion necessarily follows from a set of premises or hypothesis...

 from the collected kinds. At first he starts with the use of a mundane model (Angler), which shares some qualities in common with the target kind (Sophist). This common quality is the certain expertise (techne) at one subject. Then through the method of collection of different kinds (farming, caring for mortal bodies, for things that are put together or fabricated and imitation) he tries to bring them together (deduction
Deductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning, also called deductive logic, is reasoning which constructs or evaluates deductive arguments. Deductive arguments are attempts to show that a conclusion necessarily follows from a set of premises or hypothesis...

) into one kind, which he calls productive art. The same is true with the collection of learning, recognition, commerce, combat and hunting, which can be deduced into the kind of acquisitive art.

After these two collections he proceeds to the division of the expertise into production and acquisition, and then he tries to find out to which of these two sub-kinds the angler belongs (classification), which means acquisition. By following the same method, deduction through collection, he divides the acquisition in possession taking and exchanging goods, to which sophistry belongs. After many successive collections and divisions he finally arrives at the definition of the model (Angler). Throughout this process Plato discovers many kinds and sub-kinds (hunting, aquatic-hunting, fishing, strike-hunting).

After the verbal explanation of the model (definition), he tries to find out what the model and the target kind share in common (sameness) and what differentiates them (difference). Through this comparison, and after having been aware of the different kinds and sub-kinds, he can classify sophistry also among the other branches of the ‘tree’ of division of expertise as follows: 1. production, hunting by persuasion and money-earning, 2.acquisition, soul wholesaling, 3. soul retailing, retailing things that others make, 4. soul retailing, retailing things that he makes himself, 5. possession taking, competition, money-making expertise in debating.

Throughout the process of comparison of the deduced kinds through his method of collection, Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 discovers some attributes in relation to which the kinds can be divided (difference in relation to something). These are similar to the Categories
Categories (Aristotle)
The Categories is a text from Aristotle's Organon that enumerates all the possible kinds of thing that can be the subject or the predicate of a proposition...

 of Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, so to say: quantity, quality, relation, location, time, position, and etc.

After having failed to define sophistry, he attempts a final deduction through the collection of the five definitions of sophistry. Since these five definitions share in common one quality (sameness), which is the imitation, he finally qualifies sophistry as imitation art. Following the division of the imitation art in copy-making and appearance-making, he discovers that sophistry falls under the appearance-making art, namely the Sophist imitates the wise man. However, in order that his conclusion is irrefutable Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 has to examine first Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

’ notion, namely ‘it is impossible that things that are not are’, in comparison with his conclusion, that is to say ‘those that are not (appearing and seeming) somehow are’.

Puzzles of being and not-being, great kinds


Plato, before proceeding to the final definition of sophistry, has to make clear the concepts that he used throughout the procedure of definition. In other words he has to clarify what is the nature of the Being
Being
Being , is an English word used for conceptualizing subjective and objective aspects of reality, including those fundamental to the self —related to and somewhat interchangeable with terms like "existence" and "living".In its objective usage —as in "a being," or "[a] human being" —it...

 (that which is), Not-Being, Sameness, Difference, Motion and Rest, and how they are interrelated. Therefore he examines Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

’ notion in comparison with Empedocles
Empedocles
Empedocles was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a citizen of Agrigentum, a Greek city in Sicily. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for being the originator of the cosmogenic theory of the four Classical elements...

 and Heraclitus
Heraclitus
Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom...

’ in order to find out whether Being is identical with Change or Rest or both.

The conclusion is that Rest and Change both are, which means both are beings, and not only Rest as Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

 said. Furthermore, Being is a distinct kind, which all existing things share in common. Sameness is a distinct kind that all things, which belong to the same kind or genera share with reference to a certain attribute, and due to which deduction through collection is possible. Difference is a distinct kind that makes things of the same kind not to be identified , therefore it enables us to proceed to their division. The knowledge of these five Great Kinds and their ability of blending is the characteristic of the Philosopher, since it is equivalent to expertise in Dialectic
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

. Finally, so-called Not-Being is not the opposite of Being but simply different from it; for instance, the statement this is not black does not necessarily indicate whiteness—it asserts no preference among non-black colors. Therefore the negation of Being is identified with the Difference, since negative predication indicates something different (an unlimited range) from the predicate. Not-being is difference, it is not the opposite of Being.

Following these conclusions, the ‘true statement’ can be distinguished from the ‘false’ one, since each statement consists of a verb and a name. The name refers to the subject, namely the statement is about something, because a thought or a speech is always about something, and it cannot be about nothing (Not-Being). The verb is the sign of the action that the subject performs (poiein) or the action being performed to or on the subject (paschein). When the verb states something that is about the subject, namely one of his properties, then the statement is true. While when the verb states something that is different (it is not) from the properties of the subject, then the statement is false. In this way Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 associates the Non-Identity (NI) premise with Negative Predication (NP).

Theaetetus is flying’ is false while ‘Theaetetus is sitting’ is true, because the predicate ‘flying’ is different from the actual predicate of Theaetetus, which is ‘sitting’. Therefore, in order to examine whether a statement is false or true, we simply need to find at least one property the subject possesses that is different from the one that the predicate specifies . It is plausible then, that ‘things that are not (appearing and seeming) somehow are’, and so it is also plausible that the sophist produces false appearances and imitates the wise man.

Final definition


After having solved all these puzzles, that is to say the interrelation between being, not-being, difference and negation, as well as the possibility of the ‘appearing and seeming but not really being’, the Visitor from Elea can finally proceed to define sophistry. In other words, sophistry is a productive art, human, of the imitation kind, copy-making, of the appearance-making kind, uninformed and insincere in the form of contrary-speech-producing art.

Interpretations


Since Plato wrote the Statesman after the Sophist, while he never wrote the dialogue Philosopher, many scholars argue that Plato challenges the audience to search for the definition of the philosopher themselves, by applying the method of inquiry and definition shown in those two dialogues. However, this does not mean that one can simply extend the method in a mechanical way to the investigation of the philosopher, but he only shows us how one can proceed in such philosophical enquiries.

Aristotle picks up a number of themes dealt with in the Sophist in his own work De Interpretatione. Among these are the required parts of a statement (names and verbs) as well as affirmations and denials.

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