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Reason's Dark Champions

Constructive Strategies of Sophistical Argument

Christopher W. Tindale

Publication Year: 2012

Recent decades have witnessed a major restoration of the Sophists' reputation, revising the Platonic and Aristotelian "orthodoxies" that have dominated the tradition. Still lacking is a full appraisal of the Sophists' strategies of argumentation. Christopher W. Tindale corrects that omission in Reason's Dark Champions. Viewing the Sophists as a group linked by shared strategies rather than by common epistemological beliefs, Tindale illustrates that the Sophists engaged in a range of argumentative practices in manners wholly different from the principal ways in which Plato and Aristotle employed reason. By examining extant fifth-century texts and the ways in which Sophistic reasoning is mirrored by historians, playwrights, and philosophers of the classical world, Tindale builds a robust understanding of Sophistic argument with relevance to contemporary studies of rhetoric and communication. Beginning with the reception of the Sophists in their own culture, Tindale explores depictions of the Sophists in Plato's dialogues and the argumentative strategies attributed to them as a means of understanding the threat Sophism posed to Platonic philosophical ambitions of truth seeking. He also considers the nature of the "sophistical refutation" and its place in the tradition of fallacy. Tindale then turns to textual examples of specific argumentative practices, mapping how Sophists employed the argument from likelihood, reversal arguments, arguments on each side of a position, and commonplace reasoning. What emerges is a complex reappraisal of Sophism that reorients criticism of this mode of argumentation, expands understanding of Sophistic contributions to classical rhetoric, and opens avenues for further scholarship.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. xi-xii

In Reason’s Dark Champions, Christopher W. Tindale traces the reputation, the theory, and the practice of the Sophists and of sophistic argument from the Greeks of the fifth century B.C.E. to the present. Professor Tindale seeks to advance the rehabilitation of the Sophists, ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book is the result of almost a decade of thinking and writing, over which time many audiences have contributed to its improvements. Parts of chapter 3 were first presented in a paper to the Ontario Philosophical Association in 2002, and sections of chapters 1 and 4 were presented at the International Pragmatics Association meeting in Italy in 2005. ...

Part 1. Sophistic Argument and the Early Tradition

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pp. 3-8

The negative connotations that attach to the term “sophistry” have a long and abiding tradition. The use of the term in contemporary debates is invariably accompanied by a critical and dismissive tone. Yet the Sophists whose practices are thought to have given rise to this negative notion have received far more constructive treatments ...

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1. Sophistic Argument: Contrasting Views

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pp. 9-18

In his Elements of Logic (1836), Richard Whately conjures up an illogical antagonist with whom to contest his points, particularly on the efficacy of the fallacies. This device constitutes a kind of running dialogue between himself as the epitome of reason and a champion of unreason. ...

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2. Making the Weak Argument the Stronger

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pp. 19-29

A study of the argumentation of the Sophists must address early on the most serious charge leveled against their use of argument and treatment of discourse: that they claimed to make the weak argument (or case) strong and the strong argument weak. In many accounts this is linked to a further charge that the Sophists traded in no more than eristics. ...

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3. Plato’s Sophists

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pp. 30-43

There are several ways in which we could set out the debate between Plato and the Sophists—over the right ways to educate the young; over the conflicting epistemologies of the last chapter; even over the very identity of Sophists and philosophers, since these terms were still in the process of being formulated and the categories populated. ...

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4. The Sophists and Fallacious Argument: Aristotle’s Legacy

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pp. 44-58

When we turn to the work of Aristotle and consider his engagements with the Sophists, we find no comparable set of texts in which they are so vividly portrayed. Aristotle’s “Dialogues” are lost, and the few references in the Fragments to a Sophist or Grylos (Aristotle 1984, 2418) in which rhetoric is discussed tell us nothing about the discussants involved. ...

Part 2. Sophistic Strategies of Argumentation

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pp. 61-68

Part 1 has explored the treatments of sophistic argument generally and seen the particular associations with eristics and false refutations. In part 2 I build a contrasting picture of sophistic argument by looking at strategies, chapter by chapter, that can be recovered from their works, reports concerning them, and the work of their contemporaries and students. ...

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5. What Is Eikos? The Argument from Likelihood

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pp. 69-82

If the close association of sophistic argumentation with fallacious reasoning is inaccurate and unfair, then the recovery of their actual argumentative practices in a more constructive portrait is required. This begins with an appreciation of the ways they drew from the main source available to them—human experience— ...

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6. Turning Tables: Roots and Varieties of the Peritrope

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pp. 83-98

Some of the strongest eikos arguments of the previous chapter are in fact the reverse-eikos arguments that we see in Aristotle and Antiphon (Gagarin 2002:113–14). These are the arguments, such as the strong/weak man example, where a particular likelihood is challenged as actually unlikely and effectively directed back at its proponent. ...

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7. Contrasting Arguments: Antilogoi or Antithesis

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pp. 99-112

In chapter 1 we saw that Desmond Conacher identifies Gorgias’s Helen as a case of making the weak argument strong, and then attributes a similar strategy to Euripides in a line from the Antiope. Euripides writes: “If one should be clever at speaking, one should be able to establish a case (agôna) consisting of two arguments for every proposition” ...

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8. Signs, Commonplaces, and Allusions

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pp. 113-130

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle famously observes that to demand strict logical proof from a rhetorician is as foolish as accepting the arts of persuasion from a mathematician (I.3: 1094b25). This reflects his appreciation of the different methods involved in scientific inquiry and the practical questions of human behavior and character.1 ...

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9. Ethotic Argument: Witness Testimony and the Appeal to Character

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pp. 131-142

Of the means of persuasion provided through speech, Aristotle identifies three species: “for some are in the character of the speaker, and some in disposing the listener in some way, and some in the speech itself ” (Rhet. I.2: 1356a). Much of the argumentation we have been exploring focuses on the last of these—arising from the speech itself. ...

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10. Justice and the Value of Sophistic Argument

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pp. 143-152

What has emerged from this study of the argumentative strategies of various Sophists is a set of practices that use reason in effective ways to persuade audiences and move them to action. Like any such practices, the principles underlying them can be violated as much as they can be observed. ...


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pp. 153-164


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pp. 165-172


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pp. 173-178

E-ISBN-13: 9781611172331
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570038785

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Studies in Rhetoric/Communication