CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Terms


The term sophist is derived from sophia, the Greek word for "wisdom." In ancient Greece, the sophists were professional teachers who claimed to be able to impart the skills necessary for success in public life, including philosophy and rhetoric. Some sophists were also orators and logographers.

In the Phaedrus, Socrates accuses the sophists of lacking true knowledge and of training their students in an unethical, manipulative form of rhetoric that can persuade audiences regardless of the truth or falsehood of its claims. In part because of Plato's strong criticism of them throughout his works, the sophists have had a bad reputation in the traditions of philosophy and rhetoric--the word sophistry is sometimes applied to false, deceptive argumentation.