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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

A History of Greek Philosophy / THE SOPHISTS / GORGIAS


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Nothing knowable—The solitude of scepticism—The lawlessness of scepticism—The good in scepticism


Gorgias was perhaps even more eminent a Sophist than Protagoras. He was a native of Leontini in Sicily, and came to Athens in the year 427 B.C. on a public embassy from his native city. The splendid reputation for political and rhetorical ability, which preceded him to Athens, he fully justified both by his public appearances before the Athenian assembly, and by the success of his private instructions to the crowds of wealthy young men who resorted to him. He dressed in magnificent style, and affected a lofty and poetical manner of speech, which offended the more critical, but which pleased the crowd.

He also, like Protagoras, published a treatise in which he expounded his fundamental principles, and like Protagoras, he preceded it with a striking if somewhat ironical title, and an apophthegm in which he summarised his doctrine. The title of his work was Of the Non-Existent, that is, Of Nature, and his dictum, “Nothing exists, or if anything exists, it cannot be apprehended by man, and even if it could be apprehended, the man who apprehended it could not expound or explain it to his neighbour.” In support of this strange doctrine, Gorgias adopted the quibbling method of argument which had been applied with some success to dialectical purposes by Zeno, Melissus, and others.

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