'How true would it be to say that Socrates was a sophist?'

Essay by princessgingaA-, April 2002

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Sophists were travelling teachers who went around the cities of the mediterranean teaching skills such as the art of rhetoric (or eloquence), and claimed to be able to teach wisdom which they interpreted as statecraft. Most were non-Athenians who attracted enthusiastic followings among the Athenian youth and received large fees for their services. Sophists sometimes studied the nature of the universe and their most prominent element of philosophy was scepticism (a doubting state of mind), believing that we know ideas present in the mind, but not the objects of perceptions outside our mind. They stressed the idea that there are two sides to everything, often undermining faith in religion and real values by preaching a kind of relativism. Many sophists saw the gods as creations of men, and were often agnostic or atheistic and they aimed at producing cleverness and efficiency rather than wisdom and goodness.

However, from studying in some depth about Socrates and his views I do not agree with the statement that Socrates was a sophist.

First of all, according to Plato and Xenophon, Socrates never accepted any fees in return for a discussion or in exchange for any knowledge, in fact compared to the majority of sophists, such as Gorgias, Prodicus and Hippias (the three most famous amongst the profession) Socrates lived in poverty. He publicly disdained material possessions and was renowned for walking around Athens without any shoes. Socrates believed that the pursuit of the truth was far more important than material wealth and opted instead for a free exchange of idea's and felt it an obligation to share important things with other citizens so that all could benefit. However, it seemed that no matter how hard he tried to distinguish himself from the sophists, Socrates was still regarded as one by his fellow Athenians,