You are on page 1of 5

Slide 1 Welcome to the first edition of Dennis’ Dish.

Roughly once a month I’m


going to open up my kitchen and whip up a tasty tidbit of knowledge or two.

Slide 2 STAGE DIRECTION: Start with cartoon me and restaurant special sign
on screen
Today I would like to serve up an exotic treat that takes us back to the roots
of what we all do. Of course there are all sorts of roots, or tubers as those of
us in the culinary world call them. There's patatoes, carrots, turnip, Chinese
water chestnut. But that's not the roots I want to talk about. What I want talk
aobut hails from the Mediterranean land of ancient Greece. Here, to satiate
your learning appetite is..., the Sophists.

QUESTION: How many of you have heard of the Sophists? What do you
know about them?

Slide 3 STAGE DIRECTION: Image of old time professor


So why should you care about the Sophists? They were the first for-hire
instructors and were major players in pre-Socratic philosophy and the
exploration of the world around us. I’m talking about knowledge. Let me
introduce Prof I.M. Borring from Wossamotta University.

Nah. On the second thought he looks like he lives up to his name.

Slide 4 But I have another professor friend whom I think can help us out, My good
buddy Mr. Peabody, his assistant Sherman, and their Wayback machine to
learn more about the Sophists.

Slide 5
STAGE DIRECTION: Stone age with caveman
Uh oh, seems we overshot our destination and we're in the stone age.
That's ok because this gives me a chance to explain what old Professor
Borring was trying to explain.

This is Og and Og represents earliest man. Say hello Og.


Slide 6 Og and his kind have striven, along with all other creatures, to learn and
pass what they have learned on to to their offspring. For instance here, Og
is going to learn about fire.

STAGE DIRECTION: Og has burnt finger


Og's first lesson about fire is that it can hurt him. This is a lesson in the
world around him. Fire is dangerous, fire can hurt him.

STAGE DIRECTION: Og hold a torch or at campfire in the dark


Here Og has learned to control fire and use it to his advantage this is an
example of Professor Borring's "knowing how to do something."

Slide 7 STAGE DIRECTION: Og hold a torch or at campfire in the dark


Here Og has learned to control fire and use it to his advantage this is an
example of Professor Borring's "knowing how to do something."

What separates humans from everything else is our desire to look past
living within our surroundings and seeking instead to shape it to our liking.
As a result Og learned to harness fire and build tools.

Slide 8 As the human race learned to harness nature to their own advantage their
minds were freed from concentrating on basic survival and were able to
seek out loftiergoals with the pinnacle being self-actualization. These goals
were formalized by Abraham Maslow in the 1940 and 50s as the Hierarchy
of Needs.
Slide 9 But let's leave Og and take the Wayback Machine to Ancient Iona, or what
we know as Greece.

Iona became the epicenter of learning, and some of the earliest superstars
were the Sophists. The name Sophist is derived from the Greek word
sophos meaning wise. The term “Sophist” meanst “a paid teacher of
philosophy and rhetoric; literally, a teacher of wisdom.” A “sophist” was the
equivalent to what we call a “university professor.”
Some of their big hitters included:
STAGE DIRECTION: baseball cards with pictures and names of
Sophist heavyweights
• Protagoras, the father of all sophists and perhaps the most
influential. He taught the correct use of words and was the first to
distinguish the three genders of nouns, and certain tenses and
moods of verbs.
• Hippias who protested against the degenerative artificiality of city
life, contrasted Nature with Law, and called law a tyrant over
mankind.” He was reputed to have mastered mathematics,
astronomy and rhetoric; he boasted that he could speak on any
subject at Olympia without preparation.
• Gorgias, the only Sophists whose writings still exist, who is probably
best known for quotes taken from a book that no longer exists. In the
book, On Nature, Gorgias puts forth three startling propositions: (1)
Nothing exists; (2) if anything existed it would be unknowable; and
(3) if anything were knowable the knowledge of it could not be
communicated from one person to another.

Question: Do you think Gorgias believed his three propositions?


Answer: Probably not. It was probably a whimsical demonstration of his
rhetorical instructions attacking another popular philosopher of the time
Parmenides who sought to proved the existence of gods by claiming that
nothing could come from nothing so we must accept that gods created
everything.
Slide 10 These philosophers/teachers are credited with
• Introducing Europe to grammar and logic
• They developed the dialectic approach
• They analyzed the forms of argument, and taught men how to detect
and practice fallacies.

Question: Can anyone tell me what the dialectic approach is?


Answer: , a method of intellectual investigation through discussion and
reasoning that was developed by the Sophists, but mastered by Socrates.

Through their stimulus and example, reasoning became a ruling passion of


the Greeks. By applying logic to language they promoted clarity and
precision of thought, and facilitated the accurate transmission of
knowledge. Through them prose became a form of literature, and poetry
became a vehicle of philosophy. They applied analysis to everything; they
refused to respect traditions that could not be supported by the evidence of
the senses or the logic of reason; and they shared decisively in a rationalist
movement that finally broke down, among the intellectual classes, the
ancient faith in the Hellenistic gods.

Slide 11 In fact, the Sophists came along at the same time that the Grecian city-
states were evolving from aristocracies to more democratic forms of
government. Prior to the rise of democratic principles excellence in
management was assumed to be something that was a trait only held by the
aristocracy through divine province, so only the aristocracy should hold
seats of political power in the city-states.

As democratic principles took hold, the idea that anyone could learn to be
an excellent manager and aspire to power resonated well with the ancient
Greeks. And the Sophists took advantage of the public’s desire to learn how
to manage by providing education, for a fee, in the topics considered
necessary for a good governor.

Slide 12
Slide 13 This demand for training led Sophists to travel about to all of the Greek city
states. They became the 5th century BCE equivalent of our old west
gunslingers. Traveling about, hiring themselves out to whomever would pay
their fee. But even more popular than being taught by a Sophist was to hear
them debate. They were often hired to argue on behalf of whomever was
willing to pay them.
Slide 14 They prepared themselves with stock of arguments on any subject, or to
prove any position. They boasted of their ability to make the worse appear
the better reason, to prove that black is white. Some, like Gorgias, asserted
that it was not necessary to have any knowledge of a subject to argue for or
against the point. It is said they would quibble over the meaning of minor
points and try to entangle, entrap, and confuse their opponents, and even, if
this were not possible, to beat them down by mere violence and noise. They
sought also to dazzle by means of strange or flowery metaphors, by
unusual figures of speech, by epigrams and paradoxes, and in general by
being clever and smart, rather than earnest and truthful.

Slide 15 But it was there willingness to take any position in an argument that
ultimately led to their downfall. The Sophists were largely skeptics. They
concluded that no one can know anything with certainty. It was the leading
Sophist, Protagoras, who argued:

that everything is in a state of becoming; there is no stable being.


Man's knowledge is never absolute; it is relative to the person who
possesses it. So that what is regarded as true for one person at one time
may be false to another person or to the same person at another time.

This ambiguousness drove people up the wall. Much like today’s post-
modernists.

Slide 16 The success and slight of tongue of the Sophists’ ultimately led to their
downfall.
• Their conflicts between religion and philosophy led to conservative
attacks upon the Sophists
• Their commercialism provoked Plato to darken their name with the
imputations of venal sophistry that now cling to it. In an non-genial
moment, Socrates, too, scorned the Sophists for taking fees, calling
them “prostitutes of wisdom.”
Today, the term “sophist” has taken on the pejorative connotation of “a
captious or fallacious reasoner, or one who employs specious reasoning.”
To use a sophism is to use false reasoning to advance an argument.
But the Sophists, with their appeal to reason, helped liberate western
thinking from the concept that the world owed all of its joys and miseries to
the gods.

Question: What can we learn from the Sophists?

Question: Is there any correlation between the Sophists and our current
occupation?