Ancient Philosophy

The Sophists

Who were the Sophists?

In the fifth and early fourth centuries B.C.E. in Greece the Sophists were the solution to increasing litigiousness and education. If you can imagine a professional who is a cross between a lawyer and a self-help coach, that would be a good description of a Sophist. The Sophists put on public exhibitions for pay to teach Greek citizens how to succeed in their public and civic lives. They were constantly “on tour,” and some became very famous. Intellectually, the Sophists were a cross between pragmatists (in the common sense use of this term, not the philosophical one) and relativists. In our day, a pragmatist is someone practical who is motivated by results, rather than “highfalutin” principles or abstract theories. And a relativist is someone who believes that there are no absolute truths or universal values, but simply what seems to be the case for individuals, and what they desire.


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