The sophists correspond to the philosophers who belonged to the “Sophistic School” (IV and V BC).
Composed of a group of traveling scholars and scholars, they mastered rhetoric and speech techniques, and were interested in spreading their knowledge in exchange for paying fees for students or apprentices.
The sophists break with the pre-Socratic tradition, criticizing the customs and traditions of the Athenian society of the time.
Note that the word “sophist”, of Greek origin, “sophistes”, corresponds to a term derived “sophia”, that is, wisdom.
In this way, well-born young people sought out sophists interested in acquiring knowledge and especially “aretê”, a Greek concept that denotes nobility, excellence and virtue and, in the case of sophists, the union of essential general knowledge (more precisely in the areas of oratory, rhetoric, science, music and philosophy), since in Ancient Greece, the political function, very prominent, depended on the good use of the word.
Sophists and Socrates
In contrast to the concept of “Dialectic” and “Maiutics” determined by the Greek philosopher Socrates (470 BC-399 BC), the sophists deny the existence of the truth, so that it arises through the consensus among men.
Thus, for Socrates, the "Maiêtica" which literally means "giving birth", is a method of argumentation, indicated to unveil human knowledge, as if it were latent.
In this way, the philosopher opposed the “Sophistic School” and, above all, the oratory masters, since they charged very high prices for the dissemination of knowledge.
In other words, if the sophist believes in things in a particular way, so that each individual has his vision, they refute, to win the verbal debate, while Socrates, who assumes the existence of the absolute concept of each thing, refutes, to thus purify the soul of its ignorance.
Despite being fought by Socrates, the sophists were also criticized by the Greek philosophers: Aristotle (384 B.C.-322 B.C.) and Plato (428 B.C.-347 B.C.). According to Plato, the sophists were not considered philosophers but mercenaries.
Main Greek Sophists
The main masters of the oratory of Ancient Greece were:
One of the greatest representatives of sophism, Protagoras, was born in Abdera, Thrace region, around 481 BC.
He was an important philosopher, accused of atheism and therefore had to flee to Sicily, he died around the age of 70, around 420 BC.
He was known for the famous phrase, which in a way, points to the relativism of philosophy “Man is the measure of all things, of things that are, while they are, of things that are not, while they are not.”
Gorgias, was born in Leontinos, Sicily, around 483 B.C. and died in Larissa, around 380 B.C.
He was a Greek philosopher who, together with Protágoras, formed the first generation of sophists. He stood out as a speaker and rhetoric, so that he trusted the objectivity of the speech; according to him: "Persuasion combined with words shapes the minds of men as they wish".
During his life, he was very interested in spreading his knowledge, which led him to speak in several cities and, above all, in the large panhellenic centers such as Olympia and Delphi.
He had a long life (about 100 years), being named Ambassador of Athens, with approximately 60 years.
Hippias of Elis (around 430 B.C.- 343 B.C.), was born in Elis, a city on the Mediterranean coast. One of the most famous sophist masters, he was a multifaceted figure, being a skilled Greek speaker, in addition to standing out in the areas of handicrafts, astronomy, mathematics and history.
With his work, he managed to obtain many profits, becoming a rich and respected man. Creator of the "Mnemotechnics" method (art of memory), he was appointed Ambassador of his hometown.