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The Sophists: A New Type of Philosophy

1. Instituted a new phase in Greek education:

  • Commercialization of higher education
  • Introduced study of rhetoric, grammar and argument
  • Rejection of traditional Greek values or virtues in favor of pragmatic, political, entrepreneurial, and egoistic values

2. Initiated an anthropological and ethical focus within philosophy, a reflective turn toward human affairs in general. Inaugurated a form of self-consciousness not exhibited in the pre-Socratic nature philosophers. With Socrates, they brought philosophy “down from the heavens” (Cicero).

3. Advanced an epistemological skepticism and relativism that rejected the possibility of achieving universal truth and knowledge. At best, we can acquire useful, but culturally relative, opinions or beliefs (doxa).

4. Exhibited a critical or secularist attitude toward the traditional gods, ranging from a skeptical agnosticism (we cannot know anything about the gods, including whether they exist or not) to an atheistic critique of the role of religion in controlling the masses.

5. Proposed and practiced a form of egoism in which the pursuit of personal advantage or self-interest is interpreted as natural, rational and pragmatic.

6. Argued for a type of moral relativism in the form of conventionalism (cultural derivation or determination of moral standards) or subjectivism (individual determination of morality