Posts Tagged ‘sophists


Kerferd’s The Sophistic Movement

G.B. Kerferd
The Sophistic Movement
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
Chapter One: Introduction

•    Sophists provoked their own condemnation, first by Socrates then Plato
1: “Even the revulsion of Plato felt by those to whom Plato felt by those whom Plato has tended to appear as a reactionary authoritarian has done little for the sophists.  Condemned to a kind of half-life between Presocratics on the one hand and Plato and Aristotle on the other, they seem to wander for ever like lost souls.”
2: “Throughout all, two dominant themes – the need to accept relativism in values and elsewhere without reducing all to subjectivism, and the belief that there is no area of human life or of the world as a whole which should be immune from understanding achieved throughout reasoned argument.”
Chapter Two: Towards a History of Interpretations of the Sophistic Movement
•    Aristotle: The sophistic art consists in apparent wisdom which is not in fact wisdom, and the sophist is one who makes money from “apparent and not real wisdom”
•    Two charges: sophists are not serious thinkers and teachings were profoundly immoral
4: “They define the sophist (1) as the hired hunter of rich young men, (2) as a man who sells ‘virtue’, and, since he is selling goods not his own, as a man who can be described as merchandising in learning, or (3) who sells it retail in small quantities, or (4) as a man who sells goods that he has fabricated in person for his customers.  On another view, (5) the sophist is one who carries on controversies of the kind called Eristic in order to make money from the discussion of right and wrong.  (6) A special aspect of kind of sophistry is then identified as a kind of verbal examination called Elenchus which educates by purging the soul from the vain conceit of wisdom.  […]  Finally at the end of the dialogue, after a long digression, we come to (7) where the sophist is seen as the false counterfeiter of philosophy, ignorantly framing contradictions that are based on appearances and opinions rather than reality.”


Poulakis’ Sophistical Rhetoric in Classical Greece

John Poulakis
Sophistical Rhetoric in Classical Greece
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

•    If you tell people for 100 years that they are dogs, they’ll start barking
•    Reactionary argument—only kind of rhetoric is sophistical
•    History without language
o    Little is gained by arguing that Plato was wrong about the sophists
•    Language without history
•    Re-reading the sophists as they were is impossible—too many influences on the their reinterpretation (time passage, etc.)
•    Time-and-place dependent understandings
•    Discussion of the past constitutes an interpretive construction from a particular perspective of the present
•    Threat the rhetoric of the sophists in order to stimulate new thinking on our rhetorics
Xi: “Moreover, they have been trained to believe that their susceptibility to the charming words of others constitutes a weakness to be overcome by means of such fortifying agents as approved versions of reason, dialectical know-how, and objectivity.”
1: “Today, the narrative repertoire on Hellas’ early rhetoricians includes stories about a suspect epistemological and moral doctrine (Plato), a necessary moment in the history of philosophy (Hegel), a unique cultural phenomenon (Nietzsche), and a profound intellectual movement (Jaeger, Kerferd).
From Christopher Lyle Johnstone’s Review
•    The present work is the product of the approach he embraces: it is comprehensive rather than narrowly focused, it credits the Older Sophists with a “rhetorical consciousness” rather than being concerned (as Schiappa was) that rhetorike was coined b y Plato in the 4th century, and it seeks to interpret sophistical writings in terms of their themes, patterns and cultural milieu rather than strictly in terms of what the textual evidence alone permits. At the same time, however, Poulakos aims at something like Schiappa’s historical reconstruction: the book situates the sophists in the cultural environment of the latter half of the fifth century B.C., examines the preserved textual materials of and about the sophists, and considers three major receptions of sophistic rhetoric in an effort to “derive a rhetoric that can be called sophistical” (4).
•    Poulakos promises to “treat past texts not as fixed monuments to be consumed cognitively but as elusive documents that can stimulate readers to rethink the constitution of their own lives. . .” (3).
•    Poulakos asserts that “whether we are looking at a past work or its past reception, the perspective of the present is unavoidable.” Thus he dismisses the “extremes of classical philology, which claims to interpret texts objectively, and modernist criticism, which often disregards their historical character” (7).
•    After reviewing the principal political, cultural, economic and intellectual developments that shaped 5th-century Athens, the chapter examines the status of the sophists as itinerant teachers of oratory and disputation in cities where they were always “other.”
•    The next chapter, entitled “Terms for Sophistical Rhetoric,” explores in some detail the notions of opportunity, playfulness and possibility “as constitutive functions” of the cultural milieu of the sophists. It does so by first reviewing “two common ways of reading the sophists” and then by proposing a third “which attends… both [to] the cultural dynamics discussed in the previous chapter, and to some sophistical texts . . . influencled] by these dynamics” (53). […]These terms are kairos (opportunity), paignion (game, play), and to dunaton (the possible). They were selected because, we are told, they help explain common features of sophistical texts and because they can render the sophists’ rhetorical practices meaningful
•    Poulakos concludes that for Plato the teaching and rhetorical practices of the sophists provided the counterview against which he could articulate and argue for his vision of the superiority of the philosophical to the rhetorical life.
•    Isocrates, on the other hand, seems to have maintained a much more ambivalent and ambiguous attitude toward the sophists. “Indebted to the tradition the sophists had initiated, Isocrates imitates their work but only up to a point; time and again, he follows their example but never entirely” (142).
•    Aristotle’s reception, according to Poulakos, was characterized by both the preservation and the correction of sophistic thinking: “because they contributed to the cultural reservoir of rhetorical insights, [Aristotle held that] the sophists are historically important; but because their reasoning was often flawed, it needs to be corrected” (150).
•    One implication of this view is that “the rhetoric of the sophists has no end-point…. [W]ith the sophists there is no truth, no unity, no telos” (189). Moreover, “sophistical rhetoric labors to utter novel words, fresh insights, and original thoughts.” It disrupts “established norms of linguistic action, . . . shatters aspects of conventional wisdom, . . . unsettles the sensibilities of the accepted tradition” (190). Thus it calls into question habits of perception and traditional modes of thought by “challenging what other rhetorics take for granted. Accordingly, it cultivates skeptical attitudes. . .” (191).


McComiskey’s Gorgias and the New Sophistic Rhetoric

Bruce McComiskey
Gorgias and the New Sophistic Rhetoric
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

•    Who were the sophists?
o    More difficult to answer than imagined
o    Plato’s influence on the negative usage of the term forced Aristotle to use it in reference to unethical speakers
•    Aristotle, in Sophistical Refutations: The art of the sophist is the semblance of wisdom without reality, and the sophist is the one who makes money from an apparent but unreal wisdom”
•    Sophist = wise man before Plato changed the meaning
•    New interpretations of sophistic dialogues accepted the Plato/sophist divide, but favored the sophists over Plato
o    Revalued the sophists through Plato’s texts, not sophistic texts
•    Social turn in rhetorical studies (Trimbur): turn toward social constructionism and (social) epistemic rhetoric
•    Poulakis: sophistic definition of rhetoric: “rhetoric is the are which seeks to capture in opportune moments that which is appropriate and attempts to suggest that which is possible.”
•    The sophists used logos – not rhetoric – to refer to their art of discourse
•    deCerteau: impossible to construct the past as it actually was
•    Although all neosophists engage in the critical act of appropriation, not all neosophists appropriate ancient doctrines in the same way
o    Three critical approaches:
•    First, there are a few neosophists who appropriate Plato’s characterization of these traveling teachers, either valuing Plato’s misrepresentations or disparaging them
•    Second, there are a few more neosophists who put aside Plato’s misrepresentations of sophistic doctrines, appropriating doctrines instead from actual sophistic texts and historical interpretations of them in order to find common threads among the ‘older sophists’ and contemporary composition and rhetorical theorists (Jarratt; Poulakis)
•    Third, the lion’s share of neosophists put aside Plato’s misrepresentations of sophistic doctrines, appropriating doctrines instead from actual sophistic texts and historical interpretations of them in order to understand the unique contributions of individual sophists, usually Protagoras and Gorgias, to contemporary rhetorical theory and composition studies (Crowley; Neel; Scott; Vitanza) (11).
•    New sophistic rhetoric relies on three assumptions: knowleges/epistemologies can be understood within defining context of particular cultures; rhetorical methods rely on probability, affect, and kairos; relativistic rhetoric of the right moment supports democratic power formations that depend on the invention of ethical arguments.
5: “First, some scholars take Plato at his word, disparaging the sophist as greedy cheaters.  Second, some scholars accept what Plato says about the sophists, but they value, rather than disparage, these traveling teachers based on Palto’s characterization.  Third, some scholars put aside Plato’s misrepresentations of the sophists, examining the sophistic texts themselves in order to discover common threads among the most prominent ‘older’ sophists.  Fourth, some scholars put aside Plato’s misrepresentations of the sophists, examining the sophistic texts themselves in order to understand the unique contributions of each individual sophist in the context of pre-Socratic thought.”
5: “In ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Benjamin writes, ‘For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.’  This is, of course, what was happening in the revival of sophistry. In what had come to be known as ‘the sophists’ –those ancient antifoundationalists, champions of democracy, teachers of rhetoric- many scholars found a friend in the fray,  ancient validation for the arguments they wanted to make about contemporary rhetoric, arguments that were almost as marginalized, it seemed, as those criticized by Plato over 2,000 years hence.”
8: “As the human mind evolves in response to new technologies and social institutions, its ability to capture the ‘truth’ of the past erodes irretrievably.”


Walker’s Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity

Jeffrey Walker
Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity
Area: Rhetorical and Critical Theory
From Kirby’s Review

•    An era obsessed with text and textuality, a book on rhetoric and poetics has emerged urgently central
•    Hesiod and Aristotle conceived of poetics in rhetorical terms
•    Walker’s interpretation of mimesis too narrow:
o    Doesn’t account for the verbal mimesis of poetry
o    The rhetor is performing a version of himself from a script provided by the logographer.  Rhetoric has mimetic aspects, just as Aristotelian mimesis is rhetorical
•    Walker misinterprets houtos ekenios:
o    Doesn’t refer to the noetic experience of poetry
o    Does mean the cognitive connection between visual images and the things they represent
•    While Walker tries to downplay the role of Aristotle, he relies heavily on the Aristotelian system
•    Throwback to Schiappa’s question of whether and how the naming of a thing alters our understanding of it
580: “what came to be called rhetoric was neither originally nor essentially an art of practical civic oratory-rather . . . it originated from an expansion of the poetic/epideictic domain, from ‘song’ to ‘speech’ to ‘discourse’ generally … although there certainly were changes in sociopolitical conditions and rhetorical practices, there was no ‘decline of rhetoric’ in any meaningful sense in either the Hellenistic or the Roman period” (ix). In parts 3 and 4 he develops “a notion of rhetorical poetics that can be found embodied in archaic poetry” and discusses “the gradual occlusion of this notion in the grammatical tradition and the ‘grammaticalized’ rhetoric and poetics transmitted from the Middle Ages to early modernity” (x).  This history is recounted from a “‘sophistic’ or neosophistic rather than a neo- Aristotelian perspective” (xi); as Walker says, Plato and Aristotle “play less central roles in my discussion than some readers might expect”
581: But for Walker, the Poetics embodies a “double vision” by which Aristotle, on the one hand, presupposes a “fundamentally rhetorical conception of poetic discourse” (281) while,  n the other, simultaneously occluding its “rhetorical, argumentative, suasory character.”
From Hill’s review:
•    A sophist’s history of rhetoric
From Enos’ review:
•    Rhetoric and poetry share a common origin and are tied together as epideictic discourse
•    Insofar as epideictic is the primary form of rhetoric, and poetry is the original and ultimate form of epideictic, poetry is also the original and ultimate form of rhetoric
•    This book would benefit by stressing how all oral poetry is rhythmical and how euphony is an important feature for memory and arrangement would help readers to understand what Ong calls the “psychodynamics” of orality
•    If rhetoric was in ‘decline’ (as many historians of rhetoric describe) whey does it actually prosper?


Jarratt’s Rereading the Sophists

Susan Jarratt
Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

•    Investigate the reasons why the sophists have only lately begun to enter the conversation about the histories of rhetoric
•    How do the sophists answer questions treated by philosophy?
•    Examine history of the sophists and history in the sophists
•    Aristotle: sophists = a certain kind of moral purpose
o    Tricky emotional appeals ≠ methodological investigations
•    Enos: legitimate sophists in terms of “epistemology”
o    Describes sophistic discourses as a ‘non-rational’: a discourse structured by the conjunction of opposing logoi
•    For Derrida, the sophists are the ‘closest other’ of Plato, one inseparable side of a leaf that can’t exist without its opposite
o    Writing ≠ speech
o    Monument ≠ memory
o    Rhetoric ≠ philosophy
•    Nomoi: community-specific customs and laws
•    Goal of the historian: not to become to specialized or too generalized
•    Not suggesting that rhetorical historians fabricate a past, but view history as merely uncovering lost “facts”
•    “Each sophistic discourse disrupts a stable historical narrative and subverts the teleology of its analogs.” (ex.: Gorgias’ retelling of Helen)
•    Rhetorical history won’t look for superficial similarities, but look longer into discovering finer and finer shades of difference
•    Sophists use of antithesis:
o    Manipulative device to elicit emotional effects
o    Precursor to Aristotelian logic and Socratic definition: excludes one of two options
•    Logical structure = traditional history
•    Narrative structure = rhetorical history
•    Rearrangement is revaluation
•    Reassessment of the shift from an “oral” consciousness to full “rationality” by way of the sophists suggests a complication of that historical formula
•    For the sophists: nomos is the middle term between mythos and logos
o    Nomos: order
•    Discourse-as-knowledge → epistemic rhetoric
o    Knowledge is constructed as it’s enacted
•    Oppression
o    Sophists by Plato, Aristotle, and historians of philosophy
o    Women by men
o    Composition teachers by literature teachers
Xvi: “Once a metaphysical epistemology is put in place dividing being from seeming, substance from appearance, wisdom from eloquence, then a reductive picture of ‘rhetoric’ can be created, conveniently combining all the negative poles in each opposition, displacing them in favor of ‘philosophy.”
Xix: “The result will be different readings of canonical texts, as well as the identification of new significant sites of ‘rhetoric’ in its more comprehensive sophistic definition.”
Xx: “When the sophists are interpreted in reference to the mythic literary tradition, to the sixth-century natural philosophers, and to the political developments of their era, a general profile emerges of a group of intellectuals (in the active sense of the term) who rejected speculation about nature as an isolated activity but rather took their own materialist anthropology as the starting point for understanding and teaching effective discourse performance in the new democratic polis.  They were skeptical about a divine source of knowledge or value and focused attention on the process of group decision-making in historically and geographically specific contexts.  The first linguistic theorists, the sophists were performers as well, following in the tradition of oral poetry.  But they predated the establishment of sharp distinctions between the techniques and effects of poetry and language use in other fields.”
13: “The revisionary historian today will work with an expanded range of materials: not only the pedagogical treatises summarized in traditional histories, but any literary artifact as it operates to shape knowledge and effect social. The identification of materials at an active site becomes as must the work of the revisionary historian as her commentary on them.”


Kent Sprague’s The Older Sophists

A concise summary of, well, summaries/biographies.


Foucault’s Fearless Speech

Michael Foucault
Fearless Speech
Area: Rhetorical and Critical Theory
Notes from class (read with “White Mythology”)

•    Sophistic/Socratic showdown
o    Turn to ethics in critical theory today
•    Derrida: post deconstruction ethics
•    Socratics: remember; past/future
o    Socrates: afterlife
•    Sophists: grounding in present
•    Virtue v. virtuosity
•    Hegel: being and not being
•    Virtue to virtuosity: Marx, Arendt
•    Freedom and the ethical—perversion of thinking
•    For Hegel: the use of doxa—what’s accepted
•    Align Derrida with Socrates?
o    Singularity
o    Irony
o    Questioning
•    Foucault and the Sophists
•    Discourse and technology: ethical turn
•    The disconnection of truth
o    Hesiod and Plato
•    Sophists’ truth: create what is, not actually telling what is now
o    Futurity
•    Foucault’s “Discourse on Language” –attack on Derrida (although not explicitly stated)
•    Philosophy and Rhetoric: For Derrida: Net; For Foucault: back and forth
•    Philosophy is philosopheme
•    Ellipsis of ellipsis
o    Always something missing
•    Catechresis—use in a way that it’s not
•    Derrida: always past/futurity
o    Back to origins—possibility of what could exist
•    Foucault: ‘history of the present’
o    Emergence
o    What’s different today in connection to yesterday
•    Derrida: Can’t be replied on—open to deconstruction
•    Foucault: what can they do?
•    Derrida: Interest is shifting
•    Foucault: Why this shifting occurs
•    Derrida: Less interested in past, more futurity
•    Foucault; repressive hypothesis
•    Sedgwick: Dominant v. resistant
•    Butler: Precarious—risk
o    Virtue and vulnerability
•    Danger and cost: Foucault—Different economy than Derrida
•    Exchanges for an open field of exchange
o    Derrida: Macroeconomics    Foucault: Microeconomics (understands the specifics)
•    Socrates: needs to prove ethos
o    Risk of bringing death
•    Scarcity of ethics, not truth
o    Now achieve something, not just saying
•    Ethics can’t be outside—commodified relation
•    Question of wants/needs v. victimization
•    Irony/humor distinction
Critical moments in the text/notes
•    Parrhesiates: someone who takes a risk to speak
•    Should always be regarded as the truth because of the risk one takes
•    Power relations: a parrhesiates always risks loosing something
•    14: “The parrhesiates says what is true because he knows that it is true; and he knows that its true because it is really true.  The parrhesiatesis not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth.  He says what he knows to be true. […]  there is always an exact coincidence between belief and truth.”
•    39: “Indeed, from the perspective of the law, seduction was considered more criminal than rape.  For when someone is raped, it is against his or her will; but when someone is seduced, then that constitutes the proof that at a specific moment, the seduced individual chose to be unfaithful to his or her wife or husband, or parents, or family.”
•    Parrhesia and democracy can’t mix: everyone’s granted freedom ≠ unity
•    Parrhesia ≠ sophistry
o    102: “Parrhesia is opposed to self-ignorance and the false teachings of the sophists”
•    Parrhesiates become personal/self-reflexive
•    Verification and surveillance
•    Relatoin of self to truth
•    126: “But that’s Diogenes’ game: hitting his interlocutor’s pride, forcing him to recognize that he is not what he claims to be—which is something quite different from the Socratic attempt to show someone that he is ignorant of what he claims to know.”
From Untimely Mediations
Via Seneca’s De tranquillitate animi, Foucault’s discussion of self-diagnosis uses the notion of “rocking” to illustrate how an individual balances one’s life. (Much to Foucault and Seneca’s disadvantages, WebMD was not yet invented, or else self-diagnosing would have been, obviously, much more accurate and oh-so easier…) Seneca initially shows that “philosophy is not merely an alternative to political life,” but rather “philosophy must accompany a political life,” thus one rocks between the two in order to show balance in the public eye (150, emphasis mine). However, this rocking is neither progressive nor productive, and therefore it restrains self-mastery as one cannot advance in either subject. Foucault describes this dilemma in the following passage:
“[Seneca] does not know exactly what is the reason for his waverings, but he characterizes his malaise as a kind of perpetual vacillating motion which has no other movement than ‘rocking.’ The boat cannot advance because it is rocking. […] Here we have an oscillating motion of rocking which prevents the movement of the mind from advancing towards the truth, towards steadiness, towards the ground” (153-4).
I believe the image of rocking serves a unique purpose in both of the texts we read for this week. For Foucault, the rocking image suggests that one cannot separate power from truth, and further, that truth cannot be separated from the self. In these two cases, truth sways between the self and power. Since parrhesia involves possible loss and some type of risk (i.e. a king cannot be a parrhesiates) Foucault clearly states that the parrhesiastes, while not technically in power, is actually the individual who possesses momentary control. The rocking, here, suggests the shift in power relations, as the actual one in power (the king, for example) must voluntarily subordinate himself to the truth-teller, who now has the king at his mercy.
Parrhesiastes functioning within a monarchy is one thing, but the rocking between parrhesia and democracy cannot work. The parrhesiastes possesses some valuable truth, and it takes courage to present this information to a superior. The parrhesiastes says “something dangerous—different from what the majority believes” (15). However, in a democracy everyone is granted free speech, and “parrhesia is granted to even the worst citizens” (77). There is no risk in telling the truth if everyone has a truth—there is no unity if “democracy has become lack of self-restraint; liberty has become lawlessness; happiness has become the freedom to do whatever one pleases […] it is impossible to enjoy both democracy and parrhesia” (83). In a democracy, the truth is maintained by the demos, whereas parrhesia must be individual. The truth, here, becomes separated from the self.
(Here’s where I have a point of self-contention: if the truth becomes separated from the self, wouldn’t this mean that the rocking stops, and progress can begin? I don’t think this is what Seneca or Foucault was trying to imply, and so maybe this is something we can talk about in our meeting. What happens when truth becomes separated from the self? From power?)

August 2018
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