Why did everyone hate the sophists?

Updated: Jan 30

During the middle of the fifth century B.C.E. many cities were visited by the sophists. These were young wealthy Greek men who were offering education in aretē (virtue or excellence). Prior to the sophists, Greek education and aretē were commonly associated with the aristocratic and warrior virtues. Their education model (paideia) was composed by the aristocrats and only benefited the upper classes. The sophist wanted the aretē to be available to all free citizens. The sophist wanted their teaching to be constructed through public speaking, which they saw as an important part of life. Their education was commonly seen as a way to politically influence a citizen through rhetorical persuasion. This brought great hostility towards the sophists. The sophists were seen as idealists and concentrated on subjects such as the theory of knowledge. The sophists were labeled as fraud and blamed for weakening Greek society and their moral code. They rejected that arete was only for the powerful and wealthy elites. And saw that arete was the center for society. A new middle class could access this new education. Rheotactic, skepticism, debate and language become the central theme on how to argue. One of their major themes through their education was the difference between physis (nature) and nomos (custom, law, convention).

Protagoras of Abdera was one of the earliest sophists. In the Protagoras, Plato teaches his readers how to become good citizens and the proper functions of running a city. Protagoras’ view of the perfect citizen is through justice and self-restraint. His work, The Technique of Eristics was a series of argument techniques. ‘According to Aristotle, he claimed ‘to make the weaker (or inferior) logos stronger (or superior)’. Protagoras attacked some religious issues. And he questioned that he does not know if God does or does not exist.

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Kerferd, George Briscoe, ‘Sophists’, Encyclopaedia Britannica <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sophist-philosophy/Writings>

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