Against the Sophist, Isocrates

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    Isocrates,"AgainsttheSophists"(1)

    Ifallwhoareengagedintheprofessionofeducationwerewillingtostatethefactsinsteadofmakinggreaterpromisesthantheycanpossiblyfulfill,theywouldnotbeinsuchbad

    reputewiththelay-public.Asitis,however,theteacherswhodonotscrupletovaunttheirpowerswithutterdisregardofthetruthhavecreatedtheimpressionthatthosewho

    choosealifeofcarelessindolencearebetteradvisedthanthosewhodevotethemselvestoseriousstudy.

    Indeed,whocanfailtoabhor,yestocontemn,thoseteachers,inthefirstplace,whodevote

    themselvestodisputation,(2)sincetheypretendtosearchfortruth,butstraightwayatthe

    beginningoftheirprofessionsattempttodeceiveuswithlies?(3)ForIthinkitismanifest

    toallthatforeknowledgeoffutureeventsisnotvouchsafedtoourhumannature,butthat

    wearesofarremovedfromthisprescience(4)thatHomer,whohasbeenconcededthe

    highestreputationforwisdom,haspicturedeventhegodsasattimesdebatingamong

    themselvesaboutthefuture(5)--notthatheknewtheirmindsbutthathedesiredtoshowusthatformankindthispowerliesintherealmsoftheimpossible.

    Buttheseprofessorshavegonesofarintheirlackofscruplethattheyattempttopersuadeouryoungmenthatiftheywillonlystudyunderthemtheywillknowwhattodoinlifeand

    throughthisknowledgewillbecomehappyandprosperous.Morethanthat,althoughtheysetthemselvesupasmastersanddispensersofgoodssoprecious,theyarenotashamedof

    askingforthemapriceofthreeorfourminae!(6)Why,iftheyweretosellanyother

    commodityforsotriflingafractionofitsworththeywouldnotdenytheirfolly;

    nevertheless,althoughtheysetsoinsignificantapriceonthewholestockofvirtueand

    happiness,theypretendtowisdomandassumetherighttoinstructtherestoftheworld.

    Furthermore,althoughtheysaythattheydonotwantmoneyandspeakcontemptuouslyof

    wealthasfilthylucre,theyholdtheirhandsoutforatriflinggainandpromisetomake

    theirdisciplesallbutimmortal!(7)Butwhatismostridiculousofallisthattheydistrustthosefromwhomtheyaretogetthismoney--theydistrust,thatistosay,theverymento

    whomtheyareabouttodeliverthescienceofjustdealing--andtheyrequirethatthefees

    advancedbytheirstudentsbeentrustedforsafekeeping(8)tothosewhohaveneverbeen

    undertheirinstruction,beingwelladvisedastotheirsecurity,butdoingtheoppositeof

    whattheypreach.Foritispermissibletothosewhogiveanyotherinstructiontobe

    exactinginmattersopentodispute,sincenothingpreventsthosewhohavebeenmade

    adeptinotherlinesoftrainingfrombeingdishonorableinthematterofcontracts.Butmen

    whoinculcatevirtueandsobriety--isitnotabsurdiftheydonottrustintheirownstudentsbeforeallothers?(9)Foritisnottobesupposedthatmenwhoarehonorableandjust-

    dealingwithotherswillbedishonestwiththeverypreceptorswhohavemadethemwhat

    theyare.

    When,therefore,thelaymanputsallthesethingstogetherandobservesthattheteachersofwisdomanddispensersofhappinessarethemselvesingreatwantbutexactonlyasmall

    feefromtheirstudents,thattheyareonthewatchforcontradictionsinwords(10)butare

    blindtoinconsistenciesindeeds,andthat,furthermore,theypretendtohaveknowledgeof

    thefuturebutareincapableeitherofsayinganythingpertinentorofgivinganycounsel

    regardingthepresent,andwhenheobservesthatthosewhofollowtheirjudgmentsare

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    moreconsistentandmoresuccessful4thanthosewhoprofesstohaveexactknowledge,

    thenhehas,Ithink,goodreasontocontemnsuchstudiesandregardthemasstuffandnonsense,andnotasatruedisciplineofthesoul.

    Butitisnotthesesophistsalonewhoareopentocriticism,butalsothosewhoprofessto

    teachpoliticaldiscourse.(11)Forthelatterhavenointerestwhateverinthetruth,(12)butconsiderthattheyaremastersofanartiftheycanattractgreatnumbersofstudentsbythe

    smallnessoftheirchargesandthemagnitudeoftheirprofessionsandgetsomethingoutof

    them.Fortheyarethemselvessostupidandconceiveotherstobesodullthat,althoughthe

    speecheswhichtheycomposeareworsethanthosewhichsomelaymenimprovise,

    neverthelesstheypromisetomaketheirstudentssuchcleveroratorsthattheywillnot

    overlookanyofthepossibilitieswhichasubjectaffords.

    Morethanthat,theydonotattributeanyofthispowereithertothepracticalexperienceor

    tothenativeabilityofthestudent,butundertaketotransmitthescienceofdiscourseas

    simplyastheywouldteachthelettersofthealphabet,nothavingtakentroubletoexamine

    intothenatureofeachkindofknowledge,butthinkingthatbecauseoftheextravaganceoftheirpromisestheythemselveswillcommandadmirationandtheteachingofdiscoursewillbeheldinhigheresteem--obliviousofthefactthattheartsaremadegreat,notby

    thosewhoarewithoutscrupleinboastingaboutthem,butbythosewhoareableto

    discoveralloftheresourceswhicheachartaffords.

    Formyself,Ishouldhavepreferredabovegreatrichesthatphilosophyhadasmuchpower

    asthesemenclaim;for,possibly,Ishouldnothavebeentheverylastintheprofessionnor

    hadtheleastshareinitsprofits.Butsinceithasnosuchpower,Icouldwishthatthis

    pratingmightcease.ForInotethatthebadreputewhichresultstherefromdoesnotaffect

    theoffendersonly,butthatalltherestofuswhoareinthesameprofessionshareinthe

    opprobrium.(13)ButImarvelwhenIobservethesemensettingthemselvesupasinstructorsofyouthwho

    cannotseethattheyareapplyingtheanalogyofanartwithhardandfastrulestoacreative

    process.For,exceptingtheseteachers,whodoesnotknowthattheartofusingletters

    remainsfixedandunchanged,sothatwecontinuallyandinvariablyusethesamelettersfor

    thesamepurposes,whileexactlythereverseistrueoftheartofdiscourse?(14)Forwhathasbeensaidbyonespeakerisnotequallyusefulforthespeakerwhocomesafterhim;on

    thecontrary,heisaccountedmostskilledinthisartwhospeaksinamannerworthyofhis

    subjectandyetisabletodiscoverinittopicswhicharenowisethesameasthoseusedby

    others.Butthegreatestproofofthedifferencebetweenthesetwoartsisthatoratoryis

    goodonlyifithasthequalitiesoffitnessfortheoccasion,(15)proprietyofstyle,andoriginalityoftreatment,whileinthecaseoflettersthereisnosuchneedwhatsoever.So

    thatthosewhomakeuseofsuchanalogiesoughtmorejustlytopayoutthantoacceptfees,

    sincetheyattempttoteachotherswhentheyarethemselvesingreatneedofinstruction.

    However,ifitismydutynotonlytorebukeothers,butalsotosetforthmyownviews,I

    thinkallintelligentpeoplewillagreewithmethatwhilemanyofthosewhohavepursued

    philosophyhaveremainedinprivatelife,(16)others,ontheotherhand,whohavenever

    takenlessonsfromanyoneofthesophistshavebecomeableoratorsandstatesmen.For

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    ability,whetherinspeechorinanyotheractivity,isfoundinthosewhoarewellendowed

    bynatureandhavebeenschooledbypracticalexperience.(17)Formaltrainingmakessuchmenmoreskilfullandmoreresourcefulindiscoveringthepossibilitiesofasubject;forit

    teachesthemtotakefromareadiersourcethetopicswhichtheyotherwisehituponinhaphazardfashion.Butitcannotfullyfashionmenwhoarewithoutnaturalaptitudeinto

    gooddebatersorwriters,althoughitiscapableofleadingthemontoself-improvementandtoagreaterdegreeofintelligenceonmanysubjects.

    ButIdesire,nowthatIhavegonethisfar,tospeakmoreclearlyonthesematters.ForI

    holdthattoobtainaknowledgeoftheelementsoutofwhichwemakeandcomposeall

    discoursesisnotsoverydifficultifanyoneentrustshimself,nottothosewhomakerash

    promises,buttothosewhohavesomeknowledgeofthesethings.Buttochoosefromthese

    elementsthosewhichshouldbeemployedforeachsubject,tojointhemtogether,to

    arrangethemproperly,andalso,nottomisswhattheoccasiondemandsbutappropriately

    toadornthewholespeechwithstrikingthoughtsandtoclotheitinflowingandmelodiousphrase(18)--thesethings,Ihold,requiremuchstudyandarethetaskofavigorousand

    imaginativemind:(19)forthis,thestudentmustnotonlyhavetherequisiteaptitudebuthemustlearnthedifferentkindsofdiscourseandpracticehimselfintheiruse;andtheteacher,forhispart,mustsoexpoundtheprinciplesoftheartwiththeutmostpossible

    exactnessastoleaveoutnothingthatcanbetaught,and,fortherest,hemustinhimselfsetsuchanexampleoforatorythatthestudentswhohavetakenformunderhisinstruction

    andareabletopatternafterhimwill,fromtheoutset,showintheirspeakingadegreeof

    graceandcharmwhichisnotfoundinothers.Whenalloftheserequisitesarefound

    together,thenthedevoteesofphilosophywillachievecompletesuccess;butaccordingas

    anyoneofthethings,whichIhavementionedislacking,tothisextentmusttheirdisciples

    ofnecessityfallbelowthemark.

    Nowasforthesophistswhohavelatelysprungupandhaveveryrecentlyembracedthesepretensions,(20)eventhoughtheyflourishatthemoment,theywillall,Iamsure,come

    roundtothisposition.Butthereremaintobeconsideredthosewholivedbeforeourtime

    anddidnotscrupletowritetheso-calledartsoforatory.(21)Thesemustnotbedismissed

    withoutrebuke,sincetheyprofessedtoteachhowtoconductlaw-suits,pickingoutthe

    mostdiscreditedofterms,(22whichtheenemies,notthechampions,ofthisdiscipline

    mighthavebeenexpectedtoemploy--andthattooalthoughthisfacility,insofarasitcan

    betaught,isofnogreateraidtoforensicthantoallotherdiscourse.Buttheyweremuch

    worsethanthosewhodabbleindisputation;foralthoughthelatterexpoundedsuchcaptioustheoriesthatwereanyonetocleavetotheminpracticehewouldatoncebeinall

    manneroftrouble,theydid,atanyrate,makeprofessionsofvirtueandsobrietyintheir

    teaching,whereastheformer,althoughexhortingotherstostudypoliticaldiscourse,neglectedallthegoodthingswhichthisstudyaffords,andbecamenothingmorethan

    professorsofmeddlesomenessandgreed.(23)

    Andyetthosewhodesiretofollowthetruepreceptsofthisdisciplinemay,iftheywill,be

    helpedmorespeedilytowardshonestyofcharacter(24)thantowardsfacilityinoratory.

    AndletnoonesupposethatIclaimthatjustlivingcanbetaught;(25)for,inaword,Ihold

    thattheredoesnotexistanartofthekindwhichcanimplantsobrietyandjusticein

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    depravednatures.Nevertheless,Idothinkthatthestudyofpoliticaldiscoursecanhelp

    morethananyotherthingtostimulateandformsuchqualitiesofcharacter.ButinorderthatImaynotappeartobebreakingdownthepretensionsofotherswhile

    myselfmakinggreaterclaimsthanarewithinmypowers,IbelievethattheveryargumentsbywhichImyselfwasconvincedwillmakeitcleartoothersalsothatthesethingsaretrue.

    Notes

    (1)Isocratesregardshimselfasoneofthesophists,butsetshimselfapartfromthe

    "commonherd."

    (2)Captiousargumentationinthefieldofethics.HeisnotthinkingofSocrates,whodidnotteachforpay,norofPlato'sdialectic,whichwasnotyetfamous,butoftheminorSocratics,

    especiallyAntisthenesandEucleides,whotaughtformoneywhileaffectingcontemptforit.IngeneralheisthinkingofsuchquibblersasarelatershownupinPlato'sEuthydemus.

    (3)Theirsisacloudmorality,nottruthtolivebyonearth.

    (4)Thereis,accordingtoIsocrates,nosciencewhichcanteachustodounderall

    circumstancesthethingswhichwillinsureourhappinessandsuccess.Lifeistoo

    complicatedforthat,andnomancanforeseeexactlytheconsequencesofhisacts--the

    futureisathingunseen.Allthateducationcandoistodevelopasoundjudgment(as

    opposedtoknowledge)whichwillmeetthecontingenciesoflifewithresourcefulnessand,

    inmostcases,withsuccess.Thisisafundamentaldoctrineofhisphilosophywhichhe

    emphasizesandechoesagainandagaininoppositiontotheprofessorsofascienceof

    virtueandhappiness.

    (5)Homer'sepicpoem,theIlliad,describestheGreekconquestofTroy,awarinwhichthe

    godsaredepictedastakingsides.

    (6)SocratesspeakswiththesamesarcasmofasophistnamedEvenus,whoprofessedto

    teachallthevirtuesnecessarytoagoodmanandagoodcitizenforfiveminae.

    (7)Thatis,tomakethemallbutgods.

    (8)Fortheirsecurity,theyrequiredthatthefeeschargedtotheirstudentsbedeposited

    withthirdpartiesuntiltheendofthediscourse.

    (9)Cf.thesameridiculeinPlato.Gorg.519c,Plato.Gorg.460e.

    (10)Theaimoferistic(herismeanscontention)istoshowupthecontradictionsintheacceptedmorality.

    (11)Thewholefieldofdeliberativeoratory,butthemostusefulbranchofitinlitigiousAthenswastheforensic.

    (12)Theirinterestwasnotinthetriumphofjusticebutinmakingtheworsereasonappear

    thebetter.

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    (13)Cf.Antid.168.

    (14)Thatis,mechanicalformulasarenotsufficient.Theremustbeinventiveness,

    resourcefulness,inaword,creativeimagination.

    (15)Afundamentalrequisite.

    (16)Isocrateshimself.

    (17)Isocratesinsiststhattherequisitesofagoodoratorarefirstnaturalability,secondpracticalexperience,andthirdformaltraining.SeeAntid.186-188

    (18)Proseshouldhavethesamefinishandcharmaspoetry.

    (19)UnmistakablythisphraseisparodiedinPlato.Gorg.463a:dokeitoinunmoi,Gorgia,

    einaitiepitdeumatechnikonmenou,psuchsdestochastikskaiandreiaskaiphuseideins

    prosomileintoisanthropois

    (20)Thesophistbeforementioned.Theteachingoftheoldersophistsisdiscussedinthe

    Antidosis.

    (21)Especiallythefirsttowritesuchtreatises,CoraxandTisiasofSyracuse.techn,likears

    inLatin,wastheacceptedtermforatreatiseonrhetoric.

    (22)AgainandagainIsocratesexpresseshisrepugnancetothiskindoforatory,andin

    generalitwasinbadodor.ThepreceptsofCorax(Crow),forexample,werecalledthebad

    eggsofthebadCorax.

    (23)ThesamecomplaintismadebyAristotle.Rhet.1.10.

    (24)ForthekindofpoliticaldiscoursewhichIsocratesextols,anditsethicalinfluencesee

    Antid.275

    (25)SeeAntid.274ff.