Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

Sophist by Plato is a dialogue primarily between the characters of Socrates and Theaetetus, but others are also involved. Socrates is attempting to explain to the young man what a Sophist is and what the ideas of philosophy, purification, and education really mean and do for people in a society.

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There are several main points that Plato is trying to achieve in this work. The first is to give an understanding of what a Sophist does—the function they perform, especially in a society that already has philosophers, teachers, and statesmen. The Sophist is more than just a teacher or master of rhetoric—they are almost a physical and spiritual guide for young, enterprising individuals. A Sophist has the goal of purifying the body and mind of his pupils. He does this by educating and leading them in several areas.

To purify the body, he leads them in instruction on medicine and physical education so that they can become physically fit and healthy. The reason behind this, as is explored in Plato's Republic with the definition of the guides of civilization, is to make moral, strong leaders who will be fit and healthy enough to last for a long period of time.

The act of purifying the mind deals with removing the two evils inherent in people—vice and ignorance. With a proper philosophical education and motivation, the individuals can strive to cure vice by living morally upright lives and engaging in honest work. To dispel ignorance, the Sophist instructs them in a wide range of subjects so that their knowledge may be complete and they will be able to speak at length about any subject.

The Sophist, according to Plato, is essentially a man of many hats and is therefore extremely difficult to describe. He is referred to as a juggler and magician at times and reduced to an idea that can only be possible in child's play or must be some fabricator of reality. Plato assures the characters, however, and the reader, that true Sophists exist and are there as guides to mold the leaders of the nation.

Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 161

Some scholars believe Plato intended to write a trilogy consisting of Politikos (later period, 365-361 b.c.e.; Statesman, 1804), the Sophist, and a third dialogue on the philosopher. Because the first two dialogues search for definitions that not only will delimit the statesman and the Sophist but also will show how, if at all, they differ from the philosopher, it seems likely that Plato planned a third dialogue in which he would define the philosopher and describe the appropriate search for knowledge. In the Sophist, Plato defines Sophists and describes the kind of activity that properly belongs to them. The dialogue Theaettos (middle period, 388-368 b.c.e.; Theaetetus, 1804) is also intimately connected to this series, for in it Plato begins the quest for a proper definition of knowledge and for an answer to many of the problems that plagued him as he worked out his theory of ideas. The Sophist follows Theaetetus and carries on the search for an answer.

The Sophist Defined

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 242

In attempting to define “sophist,” Plato makes use of the technique of classification by which he goes from the most general terms to the more specific. He makes use of a similar approach in the Statesman in order to distinguish the true ruler from apparent ones. In their pursuit of the nature of Sophists, Socrates and a stranger from Elea point out many facets of their character, especially with regard to what they profess to know, which indicate to them that although a correct definition ought to point to that, and that alone, which is essential to the nature of Sophists, they find that they profess to be master of many arts.

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