Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/436

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had a distinct reputation as a man of letters; but he was a professor of political rhetoric, and, as such, in the phraseology of the day, a sophist. He had already reached the height of his fame when Plato opened a rival school at the Academy, and pointedly attacked him in the Gorgias, the Phaedrus and the Republic. Thenceforward, there was a perpetual controversy between the rhetorician and the philosopher, and the struggle of educational systems continued until, in the next generation, the philosophers were left in possession of the field.

While the sophistry of rhetoric led to the sophistry of politics, the sophistry of culture led to the sophistry of disputation. It has been seen that the range of subjects recognized by Protagoras and Prodicus gradually extended itself, until Hippias professed himself a teacher of all branches of learning, including in his list subjects taught by artists and professional men, but handling them from a popular or non-professional point of view. The successors of the polymath claimed to possess and to communicate, not the knowledge of all branches of learning, but an aptitude for dealing with all subjects, which aptitude should make the knowledge of any subject superfluous. In other words, they cultivated skill in disputation. Now skill in disputation is plainly a valuable accomplishment; and, as the Aristotelian logic grew out of the regulated discussions of the eristics and their pupils, the disputant sophistry of the 4th century deserves more attention and more respect than it usually receives from historians of Greek thought. But when men set themselves to cultivate skill in disputation, regarding the matter discussed not as a serious issue, but as a thesis upon which to practise their powers of controversy, they learn to pursue, not truth, but victory; and, their criterion of excellence having been thus perverted, they presently prefer ingenious fallacy to solid reasoning and the applause of bystanders to the consciousness of honest effort. Indeed, the sophists generally had a special predisposition to error of this sort, not only because sophistry was from the beginning a substitute for the pursuit of truth, but also because the successful professor, travelling from city to city, or settling abroad, could take no part in public affairs, and thus was not at every step reminded of the importance of the “material” element of exposition and reasoning. Paradox, however, soon becomes stale, and fallacy wearisome. Hence, despite its original popularity, eristical sophistry could not hold its ground. The man of the world who had cultivated it in his youth regarded it in riper years as a foolish pedantry, or at best as a propaedeutic exercise; while the serious student, necessarily preferring that form of disputation which recognized truth as the end of this, as of other intellectual processes, betook himself to one or other of the philosophies of the revival.

In order to complete this sketch of the development of sophistry in the latter half of the 5th century and the earlier half of the 4th, it is necessary next to take account of Socrates and the Socratics. A foe to philosophy and a renegade from art, Socrates took his departure from the same point as Protagoras, and moved in the same direction, that of the education of youth. Finding in the cultivation of “virtue” or “excellence” a substitute for the pursuit of scientific truth, and in disputation the sole means by which “virtue” or “excellence” could be attained, he resembled at once the sophists of culture and the sophists of eristic. But, inasmuch as the “virtue” or “excellence” which he sought was that of the man rather than that of the official, while the disputation which he practised had for its aim, not victory, but the elimination of error, the differences which separated him from the sophists of culture and the sophists of eristic were only less considerable than the resemblances which he bore to both; and further, though his whole time and attention were bestowed upon the education of young Athenians, his theory of the relations of teacher and pupil differed from that of the recognized professors of education, inasmuch as the taking of fees seemed to him to entail a base surrender of the teacher's independence. The principal characteristics of Socrates's theory of education were accepted, mutatis mutandis, by the leading Socratics. With these resemblances to the contemporary professors of education, and with these differences, were Socrates and the Socratics sophists or not? To this question there is no simple answer, yes or no. It is certain that Socrates's contemporaries regarded him as a sophist; and it was only reasonable that they should so regard him, because in opposition to the physicists of the past and the artists of the present he asserted the claims of higher education. But, though according to the phraseology of the time he was a sophist, he was not a typical sophist—his principle that, while scientific truth is unattainable by man, right opinion is the only basis of right action, clearly differentiating him from all the other professors of “virtue.” Again, as the Socratics—Plato himself, when he established himself at the Academy, being no exception—were, like their master, educators rather than philosophers, and in their teaching laid especial stress upon discussion, they, too, were doubtless regarded as sophists, not by Isocrates only, but by their contemporaries in general; and it may be conjectured that the disputatious tendencies of the Megarian school made it all the more difficult for Plato and others to secure a proper appreciation of the difference between dialectic, or discussion with a view to the discovery of truth, and eristic, or discussion with a view to victory. Changing circumstances, however, carry with them changes in the meaning and application of words. Whereas, so long as philosophy was in abeyance Socrates and the Socratics were regarded as sophists of an abnormal sort, as soon as philosophy revived it was dimly perceived that, in so far as Socrates and the Socratics dissented from sophistry, they preserved the philosophical tradition. This being so, it was found convenient to revise the terminology of the past, and to include in the philosophical succession those who, though not philosophers, had cherished the sacred spark. As for Socrates, he ranked himself neither with the philosophers, who professed to know, nor with the sophists, who professed to teach; and, if he sometimes described himself as a φιλόσοφος he was careful to indicate that he pretended to no other knowledge than that of his own limitations.

It would seem then, (1) that popular nomenclature included under the term “sophist” all teachers—whether professors, or like Socrates, amateurs—who communicated, not artistic skill, nor philosophical theory, but a general or liberal education; (2) that, of those who were commonly accounted sophists, some professed culture, some forensic rhetoric, some political rhetoric, some eristic, some (i.e. the Socratics) dialectic; (3) that the differences between the different groups of sophists were not inconsiderable, and that in particular the teaching of the rhetoricians was distinct in origin, and, in so far as its aim was success in a special walk of life, distinct in character, from the more general teaching of the sophists of culture, the eristics, and the dialecticians, while the teaching of the dialecticians was discriminated from that of the rest, in so far as the aim of the dialecticians was truth, or at least the bettering of opinion; and, consequently, (4) that, in awarding praise and blame to sophistry and its representatives, the distinctive characteristics of the groups above enumerated must be studiously kept in view.

Lapse of time and change of circumstances brought with them not merely changes in the subjects taught, but also changes in the popular estimate of sophistry and sophists. The first and most obvious sentiment which sophistry evoked was an enthusiastic and admiring interest. The sophist seemed to his youthful hearers to open a new field of intellectual activity and thereby to add a fresh zest to existence. But in proportion to the fascination which he exercised upon the young was the distrust which he inspired in their less pliable elders. Not only were they dismayed by the novelty of the sophistical teaching, but also they vaguely perceived that it was subversive of authority, of the authority of the parent over the child as well as of the authority of the state over the citizen. Of the two conflicting sentiments, the favour of the young, gaining as years passed away, naturally prevailed; sophistry ceased to be novel, and attendance in the lecture-rooms of the sophists came to be thought not less necessary for the youth than attendance in the elementary schools for the boy. The lively enthusiasm