A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine

By Karsten Friis Johansen | Go to book overview

10

THE SOPHISTS

Events in the course of the intellectual history of the fifth century BC followed swiftly upon each other. Yet, as always in a transitional period, breaks and connective lines criss-cross each other. Concepts such as necessity, chance, or fate could still be applied to alien and unknown powers even after the secular breakthrough. And rational insight was not necessarily an insight bridging man's little world and nature's macrocosm. It is possible to observe a relatively uniform rationality in the science of the age-Democritus, Hippocrates, Thucydides-but the concept of insight had already for some time been acquiring a new content. No longer was the object mere speculative insight into the nature of the world, but far more man's insight into his own nature, his own powerlessness, or his own possibilities.

Without doubt the Sophists-the 'wise' men-were the first and foremost to voice the rationalism and humanism of the age, a strong confidence in man's autonomy and in his capacity to understand and give new shape to the civilization he himself had created. To the Sophist, man's worth-and success-depend on knowledge and 'education', not on birth or privilege.

Sophistry is not a philosophical school but an intellectual movement that manifests itself in philosophy and science, rhetoric and politics, anthropology and paedagogics. There are certain shared intellectual leitmotifs, even though Sophists did not necessarily think alike. The Sophistic movement is closely tied to Periclean democracy in Athens and to the individual citizen's need for knowledge, political skill, and forensic training in a community based on direct democracy and oral procedure-abilities that provided him with hitherto unknown possibilities for social ascent. This notwithstanding, one should not imagine that Sophistry was a popular movement. The Sophists' task consisted rather in the education of a political elite, and they never had the broad popular appeal of the tragedians-nor did they presumably want it. Socrates' fate and Aristophanes' comedies show that the ordinary Athenian lived-and wanted to live-relatively unaffected by the new style of life. New-fashioned ideas might call for a derisive laugh and in extreme cases for aggression, whenever upper-class hotheads wanted to turn morality, religion, or politics upside-down. Very likely the average complacent Attic citizen was a quite telling conservative factor. In the first place it seemed irritating that the Sophists

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A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Presocratic Philosophy 9
  • 1 - Myth, Poetry and Philosophy 11
  • 2 - Ionian Natural Philosophy 20
  • 3 - Heraclitus 29
  • 4 - The Pythagoreans 36
  • 5 - The Eleatics 45
  • 6 - Post-Parmenidean Natural Philosophy 59
  • 7 - Medical Science 79
  • Part II - The Great Century of Athens 83
  • 8 - Pericles' Athens 85
  • 9 - Tragedy and View of History 88
  • 10 - The Sophists 99
  • 11 - Socrates 118
  • Part III - Plato 137
  • 12 - Life, Works and Position 139
  • 13 - What is Virtue? Can Virtue Be Taught? 160
  • 14 - Idea and Man 173
  • 15 - The Good Constitution of State and Man 198
  • 16 - The Late Dialogues: Knowledge and Being 213
  • 17 - The Late Dialogues: Nature, Man and Society 236
  • 18 - Plato and the Early Academy 254
  • Part IV - Aristotle 267
  • 19 - Life, Works and Position 269
  • 20 - Logic and Theory of Science 293
  • 21 - Natural Philosophy and Psychology 316
  • 22 - Metaphysics and Theology 343
  • 23 - Ethics and Politics 366
  • 24 - Rhetoric and Poetics 392
  • 25 - The Early Peripatetics 400
  • Part V - Hellenistic Philosophy 405
  • 26 - Science and Philosophy 407
  • 27 - Epicurus 423
  • 28 - Early Stoicism 442
  • 29 - Scepticism 471
  • 30 - Greece and Rome 484
  • Part VI - Late Antiquity 499
  • 31 - Imperial Rome 501
  • 32 - Plotinus 532
  • 33 - Late Neoplatonism 556
  • 34 - Early Christian Thought 569
  • 35 - Augustine 588
  • Abbreviations General 625
  • Bibliography 639
  • Index 663
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