Gorgias: The Father Of Sophistry Essay

1739 words - 7 pages

Gorgias, was a Greek sophist, Sicilian philosopher, orator, and rhetorician. He is known as the first and original Nihilist, famously saying, “Nothing exists. If anything did exist it could not be known. If it was known, the knowledge of it would be incommunicable” (Gorgias), for this reason he earned the nickname, “The Nihilist.” He is known as the father of sophistry. According to The Encyclopedia of Philosophy contributor, Francis Higgins, sophistry is, “a movement of philosophy that emphasizes the real-world use of rhetoric concerning civic and political life” (Higgins). The sophists were nomadic paid educators who instructed on oratory and rhetoric. Many people claimed that sophists had the ability to teach the thesis and antithesis of any subject or idea. “Another quality of the sophist’s teaching was their ability to make the weaker argument the stronger” (Higgins). Gorgias is most often recognized as developing rhetoric in Greece. According to A.S. Ferguson in, A Fragment of Gorgia, “The democratic process in Athens supplied the need for instruction in both rhetoric and philosophy” (Ferguson). This made rhetoric one of the most important teachings of the time.
Gorgias (483-375 B.C.E.) came to Greece from Sicily. “Little is known of his life before he arrived in Athens in 427 B.C.E. as a political ambassador seeking military assistance against Syracuse, a city-state in Sicily” (Higgins). His delivery of speeches hypnotized Athenian audiences, winning him their utmost admiration and fame. After receiving the military assistance of which he asked against Syracuse, he began traveling through Greece teaching rhetoric and orating. “He was a student of Empedocles and was the teacher of Isocrates. Plato also identifies Meno among the students of Gorgias, and he may have been one of Aspasia’s instructors as well” (Ferguson). Many sophists set up schools and charged fees for their instruction in rhetoric, and “Gorgias was no exception” (Consigny). “Philostratus tells us that Gorgias began the practice of extemporaneous oratory, and that he had the boldness to say, ‘suggest a subject.’ He was the first to proclaim himself willing to take the chance, showing apparently that he knew everything and would trust the moment to speak on any subject” (Consigny). Gorgias died a very wealthy man in 380 BC at Larissa in Thessaly. He was one hundred and eight years old. There are four works that are recognized as Gorgias that discuss his views and theory’s: On the Nonexistent or On Nature, The Apology of Palamedes, The Encomium on Helen, and the Epitaphios or Athenian Funeral Oration.
The most well-known and established work of Gorgias is, On the Nonexistent or On Nature. Gorgias philosophy is that absolutely nothing exists. Gorgias develops three consecutive points in On Non-existence:
I. Nothing exists.
II. Even if existence exists, it is inapprehensible or inconceivable to humans.
III. Even if existence is apprehensible or conceivable, it...

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