Ideas from 'The Sophist' by Plato [359 BCE], by Theme Structure

[found in 'Complete Works' by Plato (ed/tr Cooper,John M.) [Hackett 1997,0-87220-349-2]].

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1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 2. Invocation to Philosophy
We must fight fiercely for knowledge, understanding and intelligence
                        Full Idea: We need to use every argument we can to fight against anyone who does away with knowledge, understanding, and intelligence, but at the same time asserts anything at all about anything.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 249c)
                        A reaction: Thus showing that reason is only central if you want to put a high value on it?
1. Philosophy / F. Analytic Philosophy / 7. Limitations of Analysis
The desire to split everything into its parts is unpleasant and unphilosophical
                        Full Idea: To try to set apart everything from everything is not only especially jangling, but it is the mark of someone altogether unmusical and unphilosophic.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 259e)
2. Reason / C. Styles of Reason / 1. Dialectic
Good analysis involves dividing things into appropriate forms without confusion
                        Full Idea: It takes expertise in dialectic to divide things by kinds and not to think that the same form is a different one or that a different form is the same.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 253d)
Dialectic should only be taught to those who already philosophise well
                        Full Idea: The dialectical capacity - you won't give it to anyone else, I suspect, except to whoever philosophises purely and justly.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 253e)
2. Reason / C. Styles of Reason / 2. Elenchus
In discussion a person's opinions are shown to be in conflict, leading to calm self-criticism
                        Full Idea: They collect someone's opinions together during the discussion, put them side by side, and show that they conflict with each other at the same time on the same subjects.... The person sees this, gets angry at themselves, and calmer towards others.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 230b)
                        A reaction: He goes on to say that the process is like a doctor purging a patient of internal harms. If anyone talks for long enough (even a good philosopher), their opinions will probably be seen to be in conflict. But which opinions do you abandon?
7. Existence / A. Nature of Existence / 3. Being / d. Non-being
What does 'that which is not' refer to?
                        Full Idea: What should the name 'that which is not' be applied to?
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 237c)
                        A reaction: This leads into a discussion of the problem, in The Sophist. It became a large issue when modern logic was being developed by Frege and Russell.
7. Existence / A. Nature of Existence / 3. Being / e. Being and nothing
If statements about non-existence are logically puzzling, so are statements about existence
                        Full Idea: When the question was put to us as to the name of 'that which is not', to whatever one must apply it, we got stuck in every kind of perplexity. Are we now in any less perplexity about 'that which is'?
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 250d)
                        A reaction: Nice. This precapitulates the whole story of modern philosophy of language. What started as a nagging doubt about reference to non-existents ends as bewilderment about everything we say.
7. Existence / A. Nature of Existence / 7. Criterion for Existence
To be is to have a capacity, to act on other things, or to receive actions
                        Full Idea: A thing really is if it has any capacity, either by nature to do something to something else or to have even the smallest thing done to it by the most trivial thing, even if it only happens once. I'll define those which are as nothing other than capacity.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 247e)
                        A reaction: If philosophy is footnotes to Plato, this should be the foundational remark in all discussions of existence (though Parmenides might claim priority). It seems to say 'to be is to have a causal role (active or passive)'. It also seems essentialist.
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 5. Physicalism
Some alarming thinkers think that only things which you can touch exist
                        Full Idea: One group drags everything down to earth, insisting that only what offers tangible contact is, since they define being as the same as body, despising anyone who says that something without a body is. These are frightening men.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 246b)
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 10. Ontological Commitment / a. Ontological commitment
Whenever there's speech it has to be about something
                        Full Idea: Whenever there's speech it has to be about something. It's impossible for it not to be about something.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 262e)
                        A reaction: [Quoted by Marcus about ontological commitment] The interesting test case would be speech about the existence of circular squares.
8. Modes of Existence / D. Universals / 6. Platonic Forms / a. Platonic Forms
Good thinkers spot forms spread through things, or included within some larger form
                        Full Idea: It takes dialectic to divide things by kinds...such a person can discriminate a single form spread through a lot of separate things…and forms included in a single outside form…or a form connected as a unit through many wholes.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 253d)
                        A reaction: [compressed] This is very helpful in indicating the complex structure of the Forms that Plato envisages. If you talk of the meanings of words (other than names), though, it comes to the same thing. Wise people fully understand their language.
The not-beautiful is part of the beautiful, though opposed to it, and is just as real
                        Full Idea: So 'the not beautiful' turns out to be ..both marked off within one kind of those that are, and also set over against one of those that are, ..and the beautiful is no more a being than the not beautiful.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 257d)
                        A reaction: [dialogue eliminated] This is a highly significant passage, for two reasons. It suggests that the Form of the beautiful can have parts, and also that the negations of Forms are Forms themselves (both of which come as a surprise).
9. Objects / A. Existence of Objects / 6. Nihilism about Objects
If we see everything as separate, we can then give no account of it
                        Full Idea: To dissociate each thing from everything else is to destroy totally everything there is to say. The weaving together of forms is what makes speech [logos] possible for us.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 259e)
                        A reaction: This I take to be the lynchpin of metaphysics. We are forced to see the world in a way which enables us to give some sort of account of it. Our metaphysics is 'inference to the best logos'.
12. Knowledge Sources / C. Rationalism / 1. Rationalism
A soul without understanding is ugly
                        Full Idea: The soul that lacks understanding must be set down as ugly.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 228d)
                        A reaction: The teleological view of things understands their nature in things of their perfection. and the essence of beauty is perfection. It is the mind's nature to know. Failing to know is as ugly as allowing your crops to die.
23. Ethics / A. Egoism / 1. Ethical Egoism
Wickedness is an illness of the soul
                        Full Idea: Wickedness is a sedition and illness of the soul.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 228b)
25. Society / E. State Functions / 4. Education / c. Teaching
Didactic education is hard work and achieves little
                        Full Idea: With a lot of effort the admonitory species of education accomplishes little.
                        From: Plato (The Sophist [c.359 BCE], 230a)