The sophists were not, technically speaking, philosophers, but, instead taught any subject for which there was a popular demand. Topics included rhetoric, politics, grammar, etymology, history, physics, and mathematics... Sophistes, practitioners of wisdom... “enough about the origins of the world and the nature of reality – let's use philosophy to make something of ourselves & have a little fun.” They wanted no more of Parmenidean abstraction. They wanted to make thinking relevant . 33
Protagoras (c. 490 - c. 420 BCE) Protagoras is known primarily for three claims (1) that man is the measure of all things (which is often interpreted as a sort of radical relativism) (2) that he could make the "worse (or weaker) argument appear the better (or stronger)" and (3) that one could not tell if the gods existed or not... IEP Sophists 34 Sophistry - 1 : subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation 2 : sophism (a “good” philosopher can prove anything) 34
But the philosophy of Protagoras does not have to be read as sophistry, mercenary argumentation offered for a fee. It might be seen as confidence in our ability to know the world because we view it in human terms (a view later associated with the German Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). We must recognize that we cannot know things as they are in themselves and that our knowledge is subject to the conditions of our experience. The Rationalist project was doomed to failure because it did not take note of the contribution that our faculty of reason makes to our experience of objects...
Socrates' last days were a dramatic refutation of the charge of that he was a sophist if that meant a lack of principle or integrity. But maybe he did “corrupt the youth” of Athens – in a good way? An Athenian jury sentenced him to death in 399 B.C.E. Accepting this outcome with remarkable grace, Socrates drank hemlock and died in the company of his friends and disciples...
Socrates was adept with sophistical skills of argumentation and questioning. He rarely gave the answers to his own questions - the point was to force others to seek the answers themselves. He believed that virtue is the most valuable of all possessions, that the truth lies beyond the “shadows” of our everyday experience, and that it is the proper business of the philosopher to show us how little we really know. 35 “ I would rather die than give up philosophy.”
Socrates' courage and grace stand in stark contrast to how we might find ourselves confronting a choice between life and principle. Woody Allen has imagined himself in Socrates' sandals... His decision was not to abandon his principles, but rather to give his life to prove a point. I personally am not quite as fearless about dying and will, after any untoward noise such as a car backfiring, leap directly into the arms of the person I am conversing with. In the end Socrates' brave death gave his life authentic meaning; something my existence lacks totally, although it does possess a minimal relevance to the Internal Revenue Department...
Socrates the “gadfly” argued his philosophy personally and publicly in the marketplace, with his fellow citizens. His student Plato first recorded, then elaborated, then embellished and transformed Socrates' words...
Plato's two-worlds philosophy... everyday experience is less real than “Ideas” and “Essences,” in contrast with Aristotle... The School of Athens , Raphael (1483-1520)
Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets... and men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
Myth of the Cave, Republic Bk VII ... ...a strange image, and they are strange prisoners. Like ourselves ...
At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him? And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day? Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is...
...in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed... those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.
On Plato's telling, Socrates was the cave-dweller who was willling to return to the cave, to “descend to human affairs,” and was persecuted for doing it. This is an allegory about the search for wisdom, the willingness to be unpopular in its pursuit, and the dangers that befall persons who – like Socrates – personify courage and intellectual integrity. It's a plea to tolerate and even encourage dissenting voices and different ways of thinking and living. It's also a symbol of Plato's “two world” metaphysics, about which Socrates typically was agnostic. And – in modern terms – it's a warning to resist the allure of the cave and its reassuring but shadowy unreality. Our caves take many forms...
Aristotle: reality is to be found in the things of everyday experience... One world, not two ... "Aristotle did not distrust the senses but used them" to observe, collect, and experiment... There is no place and no need for a theory of Forms, a theory of another world." (41) The form of something is in the thing.