Sophists: Rhetoricians?

Chapter 2’s discussion of The Sophists and Plato really solidified and complimented some of my previous rhetorical education. Sophist, stems from the Greek word ‘Sophos”, literally meaning knowledge or wisdom. The Sophists were thought to be a class of teachers of rhetoric. Herrick talks about how the Sophists offer services (teaching rhetoric) but charge a fee in exchange. He claims their purpose was to promise things such as social advancement and higher education and claimed that the truth was subjective and constantly changing between individuals. However, later in the chapter we are encouraged to question the validity of their promises and practices.

Plato is to thank for our question of the Sophists’ validity. He serves as their own personal critic. He claims, according to Herrick, that Sophist rhetoric appeals to basic instinct (i.e. feelings) with no higher cause. Herrick also offers examples of influential Sophists such as Gorgias and Protagoras. Gorgias established the school of rhetoric, poetic language and impromptu speaking and believed that rhetoric was based in the concept of the ideal versus philosophy. He believed in finding the truth from false rhetoric and that rhetoric was a technique, not an art. Protagoras believed that “man is the measure of all things” and spearheaded the fundamental principle of the Sophist movement that absolute truth is unknowable.


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