Dialectic as Socratic Elenchus in Platos Gorgias. The Sophists Paradox on the Teaching of Political Virtue

George Ch. Koumakis

This study is an attempt at a logical analysis of Plato’s Gorgias, 519c–520e, on the teaching of political virtue by the Sophists. The logical construction of Plato’s argument is demonstrated on the basis of an earlier article of mine, in which my translation of the excerpt in question differs in three main points from the generally accepted rendition. Based on my suggested interpretation, I analyse the paradox posed by the statement that the Sophists’ pupils are just if they act unjustly towards themselves. I continue with a step-by-step examination of Plato’s syllogisms, proving that the Sophists are wrong to accuse their pupils of wickedness. In fact, it is the Sophists themselves who are wicked, falsely promising to teach the pupils virtue and make them good and well-living men. This is a deception, since Plato has proven that virtue cannot be taught. In order to confute the Sophists’ claims, he uses dialectic and, more specifically, the method of hypothesis. This refutation of the Sophists’ claims is similar to Socratic elenchus, by means of which incorrect positions are disproved and the truth is confirmed. Socrates made only one discovery, namely that he knew he knew nothing. His line of argument serves to encourage the interlocutor to strive on towards the truth, and such efforts are typically open-ended.

DOI: 10.37240/AHFiMS.2020.65.13


Keywords: Sophists · dialectic · paradox · pragmatic and logical contradiction · analytic philosophy

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