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Why Did Plato Hate the Sophists? – Philosophy Essay

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Updated: Sep 2nd, 2021

Plato hated the Sophists because they were interested in achieving wealth, fame and high social status. Plato noted that the sophists were not philosophers. He claimed that the sophists were selling the wrong education to the rich people. He described them as “hunters of the young people and money”, “traders of false knowledge” and “athletes in a sport of words”.

The methods of teaching that the sophists portrayed in Athens were in conflict with Plato’s school of thought. According to Plato’s arguments, the sophists did not teach “the true knowledge” because their interest was not to build knowledge or share it with others. Instead, they wanted to fill their classes with wealthy students in order to make money. Their teaching was based on ‘opinions of things’. Plato thought this method was rhetorical rather than philosophical. According to Plato, the Sophists wanted to make their students believe in public opinion instead of providing them with knowledge.

The rhetoric teachings of the sophists contradicted with Plato’s philosophy. This issue formed the foundation of Plato’s hatred for the sophists. For instance, the sophists based their teachings on issues such as power, relationships, truth and manipulation. On the other hand, Plato’s view was that rhetoric had the potential to cause “both good and harm”. However, he believed that there was a sense of moral responsibility. He thought that morality was the most important and essential aspect in life. According to him, morality is the universal good that humans must discover through language.

Plato’s criticism of the sophists is based on three questions that he formulated. First, he questions the identity of rhetoric. Secondly, he argued that rhetoric was misleading the society because it was not based on knowledge. Thirdly, Plato believed that the morals of the society were being destroyed by the persuasions made by the sophists.

To address these questions, Plato noted that the sophists were using a rhetoric approach rather than philosophy. Therefore, they failed to provide the actual and adequate view of justice. For instance, the Sophists taught ‘Doxa” or public opinion. However, it is worth noting that Doxa is based on persuasions. Thus, the sophists aim was to persuade rather than find justice. Secondly, the sophists failed to apply episteme or true knowledge. They were interested in persuading their students based on public opinions. Therefore, they failed to discover the epistemic truth, which compromised law and justice. Arguably, a person cannot use public opinion to provide justice. Instead, knowledge must be used to provide justice.

Moreover, Plato hated the sophists because they claimed that they were teaching justice, yet they did not have the required knowledge to teach. According to Plato, justice is knowledge that can only be achieved through dedication and thorough study. For an individual to discover justice, he must employ deep thought, scholarship and virtues. He stated that the Sophists did not consider this aspect of justice. Instead, they fabricated things known as “Kairos” (any convenient definition relative to the context). Plato further stated that the Sophists were wrong because they did not support justice. Therefore, they were “incapable of justice”.

Plato further criticized the type of rhetoric art taught by the Sophists. He argued that they were “knacks” rather than “the true art”. He stated that the sophist artists applied and taught skills found in nature rather than teaching artistic knowledge based on research.

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