Reason's Dark Champions: Constructive Strategies of Sophistic Argument

Reason's Dark Champions: Constructive Strategies of Sophistic Argument

Reason's Dark Champions: Constructive Strategies of Sophistic Argument

Reason's Dark Champions: Constructive Strategies of Sophistic Argument

Synopsis

Recent decades have witnessed a major restoration of the Sophists' reputation, revising the Platonic and Aristotelian "orthodoxies" that have dominated the tradition. Still lacking is a full appraisal of the Sophists' strategies of argumentation. Christopher W. Tindale corrects that omission in Reason's Dark Champions. Viewing the Sophists as a group linked by shared strategies rather than by common epistemological beliefs, Tindale illustrates that the Sophists engaged in a range of argumentative practices in manners wholly different from the principal ways in which Plato and Aristotle employed reason. By examining extant fifth-century texts and the ways in which Sophistic reasoning is mirrored by historians, playwrights, and philosophers of the classical world, Tindale builds a robust understanding of Sophistic argument with relevance to contemporary studies of rhetoric and communication.

Excerpt

In Reason’s Dark Champions, Christopher W. Tindale traces the reputation, the theory, and the practice of the Sophists and of sophistic argument from the Greeks of the fifth century B.C.E. to the present. Professor Tindale seeks to advance the rehabilitation of the Sophists, especially by examining their actual modes of arguing in their own works, in those they influenced, and in the reports of others about their argumentation. Sophistic argument has suffered from the charge that it is merely eristic—speech undertaken to win at all costs or simply to elicit admiration. Similarly sophistic argument has been charged, since Plato and Aristotle, with developing skills to make the weaker argument appear to be the stronger. But, argues Tindale, the Sophists would not ac knowledge the assumption behind this charge—that in the sorts of matters that sophistic argument is designed to treat, such as jury trials, there is a knowable, absolute truth, access to which sophistic argument is designed to obscure. the Sophists, claims Tindale, developed their argumentative methods to weigh probabilities and likelihoods in a world of argument where probability is the best we can hope for. Hence the skill of turning arguments about is at least worthy of serious consideration on its own terms. Even Plato, who was in search of the truth of the Forms, observes Tindale, wrote “in a letter that no serious philosopher will attempt to put the truth into words. the nature of the medium, the subject, and the audience all render such an effort pointless.”

Professor Tindale traces in detail sophistic strategies of argumentation as they are used by the Sophists themselves, with extended development of argument based on likelihood, arguments based on reversal, arguments based on antithetical reasoning, and ethotic argument (argument based on witness testimony and the appeal to character).

Professor Tindale concludes his examination of the contributions of the Sophists to argument by noting that sophistical reasoning makes possible rhetoric itself, which is indispensable in any discussion of choices about justice— hence all argumentative reasoning is rhetorical. At the core of such argument is an acknowledgment of the importance of audiences, who through rhetoric . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.