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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

A History of Greek Philosophy / THE SOPHISTS / PROTAGORAS


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Cicero (Brut. 12) definitely connects the rise of these teachers with the expulsion of the tyrants and the establishment of democratic republics in Sicily. From 466 to 406 B.C. Syracuse was democratically governed, and a ‘free career to talents,’ as in revolutionary France, so also in revolutionary Greece, began to be promoted by the elaboration of a system of persuasive argument. Devices of method called ‘commonplaces’ were constructed, whereby, irrespective of the truth or falsehood of the subject-matter, a favourable vote in the public assemblies, a successful verdict in the public courts, might more readily be procured. Thus by skill of verbal rhetoric, the worse might be made to appear the better reason; and philosophy, so far as it continued its functions, became a search, not for the real amidst the confusions of the seeming and unreal, but a search for the seeming and the plausible, to the detriment, or at least to the ignoring, of any reality at all.

The end of philosophy then was no longer universal truth, but individual success; and consistently enough, the philosopher himself professed the individualism of his own point of view, by teaching only those who were prepared to pay him for his teaching. All over Greece, with the growth of democracy, this philosophy of persuasion became popular; but it was to Athens, under Pericles at this time the centre of all that was most vivid and splendid in Greek life and thought, that the chief teachers of the new philosophy flocked from every part of the Greek world.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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