Plato’s use of ‘sophistēs’: neither novel nor distinct nor derogatory



In this paper I would like to challenge the received account according to which Plato’s conception of the sophist is either novel, distinct or derogatory. I propose that Plato uses common conceptions of the intellectual to create a rather loose identity for the sophist. Through the available evidence, I hope to show that Plato does not assign a new meaning to the label, but rather uses conventional conceptions of the sophist to create his main argument. I claim that apart from the Sophist, in other dialogues there is no clear conception of what and who the sophist is, no clarity as to what their activity is, and therefore (although there are reasons to suspect about them and their activity), there are no grounds to condemn them. Stemming from a conceptualization of σοφία in terms of knowledge, the σοφιστής is mainly described as someone who knows many things, or an expert in ‘all matters’—a description, we shall see, that precludes finding a single definition. My proposal is that Plato does not construct the hostility against sophists, as some accounts claim, but rather represents this hostility against experts and intellectuals by appealing to popular attitudes against the σοφοί. Importantly, Plato is critical of popular representations of sophists mainly because they are the result of people’s misjudgement or ignorance, from which the prejudice against philosophers also stems.

Palabras clave:

Plato, sophist, novel, distinct, derogatory

Biografía del autor/a

Trinidad Silva, Universidad Alberto Hurtado

Correspondencia: Trinidad Silva
Profesora de Filosofía antigua. Universidad Alberto Hurtado. Chile
ORCID ID: 0000-0002-1424-5039