Oppositional World Views: Plato & the Sophists

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The Sophist views and beliefs originated in Ancient Greece around 400 B.C.E. The Sophists were known as wandering rhetoricians who gave speeches to those who could afford to listen. The Sophists deeply believed in the power of rhetoric and how it could improve one's life. Plato on the other hand was opposed to all Sophist beliefs. He viewed the Sophists as rhetorical manipulators who were only interested in how people could be persuaded that they learned the truth, regardless if it was in fact the truth. Plato basically opposed every view the Sophists held true and tried to disprove them throughout his many dialogues. The Sophists and Plato held two very contrasting views and this paper will attempt to sift through them all in hopes of illustrating each one. This paper will first focus on each group. It will begin by identifying both the Sophists and Plato and then citing the significant principles associated with each world view. This paper will then focus on how each component of their world views relate specifically to rhetoric. Finally, this paper will focus on illustrating each world view by way of current newspaper editorial.

As noted, the Sophists were rooted in ancient Greece but traveled to many places, giving speeches on rhetoric to those who could afford to listen. Within their teachings, the Sophists focused on rhetorical techniques and how they could be used to successfully argue any side of an argument. They harped on the idea that through their teachings, self improvement could be achieved because those who controlled language had the power. The Sophists were relativists, which means they believed that an individual or society's beliefs, while true for that particular individual or society, might be untrue for others. (Bizzell P. & Herzberg, B., 2001, pg. 6) The Sophists referred to this as kairos and said that because of it, there could be no absolute truth because the truth was dependent on that particular person's point of view. They believed that the only knowledge that humans could achieve is knowledge that is probable because absolute knowledge is unattainable. The Sophists feel that this probable knowledge can be boiled down through what they refer to as dissoi logoi. This technique, in which each opposing side of an argument is examined in order to identify the probable truth, was developed by Protagoris. (Bizzell P. & Herzberg, B., 2001, pg. 23) This is similar to a present day court room arguments where each side is argued and the jury has to distinguish between who made the best argument. There really can be no absolute truth then because the truth hinges solely on who presents a better argument. Just as the opposite of up is down, the opposite of right is wrong, and the opposite of good is evil, the opposite of the Sophists was Plato. Plato and his philosophies were also rooted in ancient Greece at the same time as the Sophists. Plato studied under Socrates, another famous ancient philosopher, and started the very first center for learning which he called the Academy. Plato was not what you would call a relativist though. He was exactly the opposite. He was opposed to all the beliefs of the Sophists, believing them to be only concerned with the manipulative aspects of how humans attain knowledge. He argued that they taught people how to persuade people into believing they heard the truth, even if it wasn't in fact the truth. Plato believes that true rhetoric is where philosophers and their pupils become free from all worldly encumbrances and all conventional beliefs in the pursuit of a transcendent absolute truth. (Bizzell P. & Herzberg, B., 2001, pg. 29) Plato believes that there is in fact absolute truth and contends that discourse is necessary to uncover it. He feels that false rhetoric is Sophist rhetoric and that with their vast knowledge of rhetoric, they should be using it to find absolute truth, not teaching people how to convince people that probable truth is in fact absolute. Plato...
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