In ancient Greece, Socrates and the Sophists were the most valued philosophical thinkers of their time period. In this essay, I will be examining the similarities and differences in their respective ways of thinking when it comes to their teachings as well as their overall beliefs of knowledge and thinking. The Sophists approach their thinking in a similar way as Socrates as they both practice epistemology, their emphasization of argumentation when using rhetoric, as well as educating the community.
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The predominant difference between Socrates and the Sophists begins with the fact that they were different types of teachers during this time and their extending debate between truth or knowledge and whether or not it was absolute. Through the process of comparing their similarities and differences about their specific ways of thinking, I will conclude that the Sophists and Socrates share a greater amount of similarities than they do differences in respective ways of thinking.
Socrates and the Sophists share a respective way of thinking when it comes to their beliefs in epistemology, their clear usage of rhetoric for argumentation, and also their acts of educating people. The theory about knowledge called epistemology began for the very first time when Socrates and the Sophists began to give their explanations about the difference between belief and opinion. The two philosophers share the same epistemology in that they share similar ideas in the nature of knowledge as well as the extent of human knowledge. The nature of knowledge shows the difference from when someone knows something and when some thinks they know something. The extent of human knowledge comes from using human senses, reason, and the resources to gain knowledge of a certain idea. Like the Sophists, Socrates is interested in the arts of communication and argument, in techniques of persuasion. (Melchert pg 64). Their shared idea of the pure difference between knowledge and opinion is shown through their theories of human knowledge and the knowledge of nature through gaining knowledge to prove whether something is true or not.
The usage of rhetoric was a shared idea for their teaching, primarily through their use of persuasion. Rhetoric allowed them to persuade those who were either ignorant or in denial about the truth whether that came to justice or injustice. During Socrates trial, for corrupting the youth, we have our first glimpse of the Socratic method, which proceeds by the question and answer, not by long speeches. (Melchert pg 62) He used rhetoric is his advantage by not changing his argument to prove injustice but using rhetoric to persuade and make his argument stronger through his Socratic method. The Sophists used rhetoric for similar tributes, with their great public speaking skills they used it to solicit victory in speaking contests, lawsuits, and then transferred what they know about the technique to others. The Sophists and Socrates had a goal and it was a goal they exceeded tremendously, and that was to use the gifts they were endowed with to share their knowledge to as many people as they could. They took place in philosophical teaching and teaching specifically their rhetoric but also excellence or virtue. In Plato’s dialogues, he highlights the sharing concept Socrates and the Sophists have, which is to prepare their students for philosophical practice and inquiry. Meaning they wanted to prepare students to look past what they saw from the physical world and really seek the deeper meaning to find the truth. Their ideas are both rationalized by the ideas of their epistemology, rhetoric, and seeking to educate those around them, which created a great connection between the Sophists and Socrates.
Socrates and the Sophists shared many similarities during their era, yet differed in their styles and through their usage of the extended debate over styles of teaching and about truth and knowledge is absolute or not. While they shared the assets of teaching the people around them, there is a very large separation between the simplicity aspects of their teachings. Sophists were known to spread their word of knowledge through working, their acts in teaching people resulted in payments from their doings. However, Socrates educated people on pure will; he was not paid for any of his tributes done to society. This creates a large distinction between them because it shows that while the Sophists educated many, their intentions to teach could have been drawn through the result in payment. While Socrates preached what he believed purely through love and absolute belief, without any care or will to receive any commodity in return.
Through the difference in payment on their teachings, there was also a major difference in the overall technique of how they taught, including their use in rhetoric as well as their curriculum organization. Socrates was known to use the philosophical rhetoric known as dialectic which has been based on the persuasion through evidence it takes to prove a specific point, Socrates proves he practiced this rhetoric when he continued to question Euthyphro about his knowledge on piety and its true form. The Sophists ,on the other hand, used the rhetoric technique called technical rhetoric, which they mainly used for strategies and tactics in battle, where they also emphasize that the best speaker receives the Sophist main goal: victory. But it is at this point that we find the deepest difference between them, the difference that perhaps allows us to deny that Socrates is a Sophist at all.(Melchert pg 64) The fact that they used different types of rhetoric shows that the set curriculum for their educating was not on the same page and they had done things in very different manners.
The central difference between Socrates and the Sophists has been a major disagreement of whether a truth or knowledge is absolute. Socrates looked at whether knowledge was absolute by looking through a line of rational to seek out the primary truth about the matter, he believed that through logical and rational thought people are able to gain true insights about what is true and what is not. Sophists believed that absolute truth and knowledge had to be found by students on their own time, majorly disagreeing with Socrates as he believed the truth has already been inside of the soul since you were created. Through the similarities of the philosophers you can also find many differences, Socrates and the Sophists created community through the very opposite side of thinking and methods which created different results for their overall success.
Socrates and the Sophists were found to have many things in common and in differentiation. After contrasting them, I can still conclude that there are a greater amount of similarities than there are differences between them. Together they shared, the practice epistemology, argumentation when using rhetoric, and educating, which created a big connection between the philosophers at the time. Which I believe is stronger than their teaching techniques being different and the debate between absolute knowledge.
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