Did the sophists deserve their bad reputation

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Debate has always raged between fantasy and reality, between idealism and pragmatism. Quite possibly, this debate began in 5 BC, for it was at this time that the Sophists asserted their revolutionary thinking to a seemingly established arena of Greek aristocracy.


Plato himself seemed to hold them in low esteem. Aristotle denigrated them for their lack of interest in pure knowledge. Later, self-professed Sophists seemed to pervert the basic tenets of the movement for personal gain. Because these itinerate teachers made money off what many perceived as deception and devaluation, the Sophist's reputation has been viewed with distrust and scorn. Even today, their full contribution is not understood.
The question is, "Did the Sophists deserve their bad reputation" The answer lies in the examination of several areas. First, the emergence of the Sophists threatened the status quo and the reigning aristocracy. Because the word itself means clever, people were instantly suspicious of someone who might be too tricky or too smart, especially the wealthy and ruling classes. Because they were teachers that received fees for their educational services, the traditional Greeks were afraid that the lessons taught might conflict with their definition of virtuous and necessary education.
They did, in a way. The idea of teaching virtue, for money, incensed the people of the time. They felt that the education of young men to be of wise judgment and upstanding character should be left to the church, not to traveling teachers who expected to be paid! Already the occupations of these mysterious travelers cause suspicion and anger among the people who had become very stable in their beliefs.
Another area of teaching that ...
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