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Political ThinkersFrom Socrates to the Present

Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present (3rd edn)

David Boucher and Paul Kelly
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date: 03 June 2023

p. 322. The Sophistslocked

p. 322. The Sophistslocked

  • Peter Nicholson


This chapter deals with the Sophists, a new kind of professional intellectual and teacher in ancient Greece who debated fundamental questions concerning human life, and particularly morality and politics. The Sophists were an important element in the major intellectual awakening, or enlightenment, in roughly the second half of the fifth century BCE. The chapter first provides a biographical background on three Sophists — Protagoras, Thrasymachus, and Antiphon — before analysing their political ideas on justice, noting the range of diffrent opinions and how they all differ from Plato. The discussion focuses on Protagoras' notion of the politics of the community, Thrasymachus' emphasis on the politics of the individual, and Antiphon's claim that justice is a convention opposed to nature. The chapter also explains how Plato sought to reconcile the conflicts of interest between the community and the individual which the Sophists highlighted.

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