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Sophistical Rhetoric in Classical Greece

John Poulakos

Publication Year: 2012

In Sophistical Rhetoric in Classical Greece, John Poulakos offers a new conceptualization of sophistry, explaining its direction and shape as well as the reasons why Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle found it objectionable. Poulakos argues that a proper understanding of sophistical rhetoric requires a grasp of three cultural dynamics of the fifth century B.C.: the logic of circumstances, the ethic of competition, and the aesthetic of exhibition. Traced to such phenomena as everyday practices, athletic contests, and dramatic performances, these dynamics set the stage for the role of sophistical rhetoric in Hellenic culture and explain why sophistry has traditionally been understood as inconsistent, agonistic, and ostentatious. In his discussion of ancient responses to sophistical rhetoric, Poulakos observes that Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle found sophistry morally reprehensible, politically useless, and theoretically incoherent. At the same time, they produced their own version of rhetoric that advocated ethical integrity, political unification, and theoretical coherence. Poulakos explains that these responses and alternative versions were motivated by a search for solutions to such historical problems as moral uncertainty, political instability, and social disorder. Poulakos concludes that sophistical rhetoric was as necessary in its day as its Platonic, Isocratean, and Aristotelian counterparts were in theirs.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Studies in Rhetoric/Communication


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Dedication Page

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pp. 6-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

A Note on Translations and Editions Used

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Broadly speaking, this book is about our capacity for and susceptibility to rhetoric, two characteristics that for many centuries have been construed mostly as liabilities and once in a great while as endowments. Since the time of the pre-Socratics, people have been schooled to think of their capacity for most words as a proclivity to error, excess, or indulgence. ...

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pp. 1-10

During the last twenty-four centuries, the story of the Greek sophists has been told many times over by historians, philosophers, philologists, and others. Today, the narrative repertoire on Hellas' early rhetoricians includes stories about a suspect epistemological and moral doctrine (Plato), ...

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Chapter 1: Sophistical Rhetoric and its Circumstances

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pp. 11-52

The first generation of sophists burst on the scene of the Hellenic culture some time in the middle of the fifth century B.C. and exited some time during the early part of the fourth, leaving behind an ambiguous legacy, many disciples, and a host of thorny questions. ...

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Chapter 2: Terms for Sophistical Rhetoric

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pp. 53-73

In the last chapter, the sophists were situated in the midst of two important changes: the replacement of the few by the many, and the rise of the middle class. Discussed both as subjects to and catalysts of these changes, they were shown to have responded to their circumstamces by making do with the cultural resources at their disposal. ...

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Chapter 3: Plato's Reception of the Sophists

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pp. 74-112

If there is only one preoccupation in the Platonic corpus, it is the sophists and their rhetoric. Plato is intrigued by the sophists, who they are, what they say and do, how they think. At the same time, he is intensely troubled by them. In many of his dialogues, he seldom misses a chance to attack their rhetorical practices, ...

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Chapter 4: Isocrates' Reception of the Sophists

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pp. 113-149

Compared to Plato's reception, Isocrates' is more complicated. Unlike Plato, who rejected sophistical rhetoric in its entirety and sought to replace it with his dialectic, Isocrates denounced only some of the sophists' rhetorical practices and approved others. ...

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Chapter 5: Aristotle's Reception of the Sophists

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pp. 150-186

Aristotle's reception of the sophists resembles, in some respects, those of Plato and Isocrates; yet, it differs sufficiently from theirs to merit a separate treatment.1 For the most part, the Aristotelian reception revolves around the axis of the critical attitude carved out by Plato and, to a lesser extent, Isocrates. ...

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pp. 187-202

To this point, we have characterized the sophists as traveling intellectuals, nomadic bricoleurs, and cosmopolitan thinkers visiting Athens and other cities on numerous occasions. At the same time, we have considered their discursive practices in the light of the emergence of the city-state, the rise of the middle class, ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 203-214


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pp. 215-220

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171808
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570037924

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Studies in Rhetoric/Communication