Socrates approaches the sophist individual relativism viewpoint strategically, carefully crafting his words to reflect a compassionate refutation. Originally, Socrates supports Protagoras’ account by asserting that the underlying principle of all things is motion. Furthermore, perception is affected by the limit to which humans can absorb and they process stimuli different from its raw quality. So, the way in which we associate various sensual experience together is completely subjective. From a visual sense- the eye is seeing, rather than full of sight (Theaetetus 156). This underlying principle is comprised of two qualities of motion a) the power to affect and b) the power to be affected. The phenomenon of cogeneration between perception and what is perceived means that nothing perceived exists without its interaction with an individual’s perceptions (Theaetetus 156E). Ironically, the previous natural scientist attests to this claim via a social framework, explaining that during his conduction of examinations, “[he was] perceiving with pain and fear that [he] was becoming hated” (Apology 21E). This statement is made to show that it’s impossible to truly know what others think of us, asserting that his perspective that the speech is a lost cause is not necessarily true. Socrates portrays his own account of reality as a response to interpersonal disconnection, as ““[he] swears [he] was affected something like this: those with the best reputations seemed to me nearly the most deficient, in my investigation in accordance with god.” (Apology 22A). Perhaps the purpose is to present a humble self-image and appear more relatable so that people would listen. To illustrate the foundational disagreement with the sophists, the renowned philosopher models that all is perceived only in its engagement with an individual’s unique absorption of external circumstances, showing that perspective is relative but knowledge is not.
In other words, Socrates explains we do not readily accept as true whatever is co-generated between perceiver and perceived. We often assert that others’ perceptions are simply false. According to Socrates, “what’s missing is the stuff about dreams and illnesses – madness as well as everything else – and everything said to be…any different misperceiving” (Theaetetus 158). When we think one was healthy and now is not, we associate their sickness to cast false perceptions. However, we are not able to say whether the sickness and madness are false perceptions, for it’s even open to dispute as to whether the person who experiences a healthy mental state breeds accurate concepts. To address whether false perceptions could damage Protagoras’ claim that knowledge is equivalent to reality, Socrates illustrates the dissimilar. There are multiple states of being that exist within us, and they do not wholly characterize our perceptions. Our perception is based on everything we are thinking in all moments, when we are both aware (correct) and dreaming (deceived). There is a similarity between the two. At both those circumstances, “our soul insists that whatever its opinions are at the moment cannot be more certainly true” (Theaetetus 158-161). The thoughts during the two timeframes impact each other. That is why they cannot be differentiated. Therefore, the individual is simultaneously (or neither) healthy and sick. For example, the wine we drink to alter our mental state is both a pleasure (perceived by the healthy tongue) and a depressant (perceived by the ill tongue). Viewing a single one of those perceptions as the truth is asserting a dissimilar within a single individual. It is impossible the two perceptions of reality coexist as absolute knowledge. Therefore, there is subjective reality and absolute knowledge.
Moving forward, the defendant explains that his way of life is fueled by the basis that we self-conceptualize reality, showing that by declaring him guilty, the sophists are not acting in accordance with their own beliefs. Socrates demonstrates that examining others affirms his passion to pursue truth. Socrates metaphorically illustrates his role as a gadfly assigned by god to serve the city, “upon a great and well-born horse who is rather sluggish because of his great size and needs to awakened” (Apology 30D-30E). In this case, the rest of the citizens are the horse, who Socrates lives off the blood of. From a practical concern, Socrates criticizes the sophists practice of “teaching” for money because it devalues the public’s intellectual worth. It’s illogical for Protagoras to make the assertion that there are no false perceptions and simultaneously “claim for himself that he justly deserves to be the teacher…[as] we (are) more foolish and have to frequent his school” (Theaetetus 161E). The structure of authority where some educate others makes it impossible to hold true that there be no such thing as false perceptions. The sophist viewpoint is a single account of morality as a means to maintain societal order, rather than to teach others to define their own excellence.
The sophist view that knowledge is characterized by desire to fulfill passion (anger, pleasure, pain, love, fear) and not to attain truth in itself explains why their main concern is rhetorical skill acquisition. Since knowledge itself cannot overpower anything else that motivates a person to act, this presents humans as victimized by their emotionally-driven condition. The sophists think that it would be “shameful” to deny that “wisdom and knowledge are most excellent of human things” (Protagoras 322C). The footnote defines “shameful” as one who holds awe and reverence. In this context, the sophists suggest that knowledge is attained through devotion to a superior system (a standard moral understanding derived from god), as the individual lacks potential to attain truth because emotion is a weakness that inevitably interferes. Socrates self-distinguishes himself from the citizens who act out of fear, “when they are judged: although they are reputed to be something, they do wondrous deeds, since they suppose that they will suffer something terrible if they die- as though they would be immortal if you did not kill them. They seem to me to attach shame to the city” (Apology 35A). Perhaps, this is why Socrates tells the Delphic Oracle story, as the philosopher attempts to prove that piety doesn’t show individual incompetence, but empowers humans. In the text, Socrates directly questions whether the sophists take advantage of religion to undermine the public, as he inquires, “are the just and the pious related to one another, according to you?” (Protagorus 331E). The sophists teach people the art of political speech to extenuate the citizens’ desire to thrive as subjects of the societal system, which creates a motivation for people to obedient. The reason why the philosopher’s presence poses such a significant issue to Athenian society is directly addressed in the accusation, as we dive into the definitions of its most important terms, as he “does injustice [commits a crime] and is meddlesome [interfering and intrusive] … by making the weaker speech the stronger” (Apology 19B). It signifies that when Socrates attempts to evoke innate intelligence out of the masses, it interferes with the elite’s attempt to preserve power.
For, if all perceptions are equally true, then there would be no reason to value one perspective over another. In the Theaetetus, the sophists define the wise not as those who opine more truly than others. Rather the superior are characterized as those who are skilled in both effecting change over others’ opinions through speeches and making “good and healthy analogy of a physician and farmer. The farmer parallels Socrates, in that the resources in itself (plants and truth), don’t produce a healthy outcome for the society. The physician, who efficiently effects change by drugs, is similar to the sophist’s ability to develop an individual’s virtue through speeches. The myth referenced in the dialogue explains “although [the human species’] skillful art was an adequate aid for their nourishment, when it came to the was against wild beasts it was deficient” (Protagorus 322B). So, the sophist method is simply a response to survive in a situation people already determined to be under resourced, incapable of obtaining absolute truth. The sophist account of a possessor of wisdom as one who “appears more beautiful” (Protagoras 309C) is significant to establish the sophists’ ethical standing above the citizens they teach and also to affirm the students’ strong self-image. The sophist Prodicus explains, “for esteem stems from the souls of the listeners without deception” (Protagorus 337B). The sophists recognize self-confidence as a form of pleasure, and they portray knowledge as teachable articulation of standard moral principles so that people can feel secure within their own minds. Thus, sophists can hold that all opinions remain equally true, while wisdom still exists in those whose opinions are better and who are more convincing to maintain the city’s order. However, a testament to the young’s pure sense of justice invalidates the sophist practice.
The anti-sophist view is established under the basis that the young are only corrupted by those who declare knowledge as earned rather than intuitive. Socrates explains that the sophists, “sufficiently displayed that [they] never gave any thought to the young,” (Apology 25C) as they don’t understand the open mind’s value. The philosopher asserts, “for it is clear that if I learn, I will at least stop doing what I do involuntarily” (Apology 26A). Essentially, the sophist intention is to cease others’ natural thought patterns. It’s notable that Socrates addresses the jury as “good and patriotic,” before speaking about the accusation involved with corrupting the young (Apology 24B). The diction is notable, as in many other cases Socrates uses “noble” (defined in the footnote as beautiful and suggests the splendid brilliance of something that shines forth, with the capacity for illumination and perhaps also deception) to replace the latter. While the sophists value patriotism, the philosopher honors nobility. This section of the dialogue suggests a lack of nobility among the sophists, suggesting that through once becoming followers they were deceived and never able to realize their inner light. Alternatively, Socrates proves his piety via his belief in daimonia, as people being half-divine and half-human (Apology 27D-27E). His mission is to illustrate the problematic essence of ego, as it results from equating our affections with knowledge. Socrates explains himself, “in ten-thousandfold poverty because of my devotion to the god” (Apology 23C). Essentially, staying true to the admiration for the divine within each individual makes it senseless for him to preach.
In the court case, the philosopher uses his interaction with the poet to differentiate the self from innate intelligence. Poetry is wise because it is a most closely link account with natural intuitive thought, but as soon as the humans accredit it to their own they are wrong about where the knowledge comes from and are therefore weaker for that. Socrates compares them to “those who deliver oracles. For they too say many noble things, but they know nothing of what they speak” (Apology 22B). A poet (defined in the footnote as one who composes “by a sort of nature” in contrast to a man who possesses an art writes without thought of which he is fully aware. He seems to mean that it is like the orderly motions and works of nature, which are produced by no manifestly embodied intelligence. Therefore, according to Socrates, teaching only interferes with a person’s quest for knowledge, as introspection is the most uncorrupted gateway to knowledge.
The sophist approach portrays people as incapable of attaining absolute knowledge, while Socrates claims that a life cannot be virtuous without the courage to pursue truth. Courage is illustrated as the willingness to act just. In this case, justice doesn’t only concern obligation to the common good, but rather self-respect. With a courageous approach to seek knowledge, humans who hold knowledge about what is good wouldn’t act against it because they went through the pain to experience the delayed pleasure of existential understanding. We see Socrates critically portray sophist students as those who endure “a sort of risk to which [they] intend to subject [their] soul” (Protagorus 313A). It shows that the sophist conception of certain pleasures as “base” is incoherent because attainment of the pleasure necessitates painful consequences. By not seeking knowledge that contradicts their original perspective, people are perpetuating their pain. They won’t be able to identify which pleasures they experience regularly actually source their current pain. If knowledge tells them what is personally good, they wouldn’t freely elect to act against it.
With the trial in mind, Socrates efforts actually preserve the young, rather than corrupt it. His inquiry-based method encourages the curiosity who notice beauty and fearlessly wonder about it. Children make observations about the outside world, and that’s what sparks their natural tendency to question. This shows that when the sophists attempt to cut off scrutinization, they are essentially corrupting the young themselves. The sophists teach people to commit to a belief without being certain of its foundational accuracy. In fact, at the end of the speech, Socrates turns over the care of his children’s virtue to the judges because he wants them to be ruthlessly questioned (Apology 41A-42B). In the case of the apology, the judges served the role Socrates usually did for others. They kept denying Socrates’ claims so that he was forced to thoroughly dissect his own principles. The court case strengthened his legacy, a man who attempted to bring true justice into the court of law.
The fundamental difference between the philosopher and the sophists is their contrasting degree of comfort with uncertainty. Ironically, the individual who spent life cross-examining individuals’ core values is most comfortable with acknowledging uncertainty. Socrates confirms that his purpose in court is to “offer [him]self to both rich and poor alike for questioning,” (Apology 33A). Ultimately, the philosopher aims to demonstrate the power of ruthlessly examining people, as it shows humans’ inferior role to the divine. The prioritization of humility above all drives his claims throughout the dialogue, while the sophists believe that his purpose is to prove their ideas wrong. The approach Socrates took, which presented himself as not trying to escape conviction, modeled his attitude that accepting uncertainty is crucial to feel absolutely alive. The philosopher asserts that, “to fear death is in fact nothing other than to seem to be wise, but not to be so […] no one knows whether death does not even happen to be the greatest of all good for the human being; but people fear it as thought they knew well” (Apology 29A). Opposite from the sophists, the philosopher asserts that citizens’ unwillingness to face discomfort perpetuates a system that relies on people who yield out of fear. Therefore, he expresses acceptance with the death sentence to prove that nothing shall ever dissolve a person’s passion for wonder.