Sophists research papers report that the Sophists were a group of men in the ancient Greek city of Athens who made their living mostly from teaching the children of the wealthy. Today, they would be known as tutors. Because Athens was a city-state limited in population, the Sophists had a major influence on its social and political life by being associated with the upper classes ruling the city and in teaching the younger generations who would be the leaders of Athens in the future.
Today, the Sophists are seen a relativists since they had the belief that "man was the measure of all things." What they meant by this was that "man"--or any persons with enough skill--could construct logical or moral arguments for any intellectual position or in support of just about any act. To cite an extreme example, a Sophist could make an argument in support of an act of unjustifiably killing someone. Such arguments made by defense lawyers in criminal trials these days not only exemplify the Sophist way of thinking and dealing with an issue, but also evidence the continuing influence of the relativism they espoused in Athens.
In line with their relativism, the Sophists took the position that moral standards are nothing more than the prevailing moral opinions of a society. This sounds right. Most persons in a society believe that moral standards are an expression of the beliefs and morality of the community. To some extent, the Sophist perspective is true. However, on asking questions about the meaning of the statement as a whole and the definitions of some of its terms, the truth of the statement is cast into doubt. While most individuals would unthinkingly accept this Sophist statement as true and applicable to the moral standards of their society and base their behavior on these moral standards relating to opinion, when questions are raised about the statement, issues concerning the actual basis for moral standards and what moral behavior is come into view.
Interesting facts about Sophists include the following:
- The meaning of the term "sophists" was originally used in 5th century BCE to describe a class of professional and highly respected teachers who would teach any subject that was in popular demand.
- The sophists were the first to accept large fees for their services because they instructed people on virtue in the sense that they taught people to perform their function in the state.
- Plato's writings of the 5th century reveal a commonly held prejudice against the sophists because they tended to use rhetorical skills to pursue unjust lawsuits, eventually leading to a decline in respect for practitioners of this form of teaching and the ideas associated with it.
- Socrates, the teacher of Plato, was accused of being a Sophist and was subsequently executed.