The Sophists in Plato's Dialogues

By David D. Corey

Subjects: Ancient Greek Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Plato
Paperback : 9781438456188, 328 pages, January 2016
Hardcover : 9781438456171, 328 pages, June 2015

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

1. Introduction
2. Defining the Platonic Sophists
3. The “Great Speech” in Plato’s Protagoras
4. Prodicus: Diplomat, Sophist, and Teacher of Socrates
5. The Sophist Hippias and the Problem of Polytropia
6. Brother Sophists: Euthydemus and Dionysodorus
7. Protagorean Sophistry in Plato’s Theaetetus
8. Plato’s Critique of the Sophists?
Appendix: A Primer on Hesiod’s Myth of Prometheus

Draws out numerous affinities between the sophists and Socrates in Plato's dialogues.


Are the sophists merely another group of villains in Plato's dialogues, no different than amoral rhetoricians such as Thrasymachus, Callicles, and Polus? Building on a wave of recent interest in the Greek sophists, The Sophists in Plato's Dialogues argues that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, there exist important affinities between Socrates and the sophists he engages in conversation. Both focused squarely on aretē (virtue or excellence). Both employed rhetorical techniques of refutation, revisionary myth construction, esotericism, and irony. Both engaged in similar ways of minimizing the potential friction that sometimes arises between intellectuals and the city. Perhaps the most important affinity between Socrates and the sophists, David D. Corey argues, was their mutual recognition of a basic epistemological insight—that appearances (phainomena) both physical and intellectual were vexingly unstable. Such things as justice, beauty, piety, and nobility are susceptible to radical change depending upon the angle from which they are viewed. Socrates uses the sophists and sometimes plays the role of sophist himself in order to awaken interlocutors and readers from their dogmatic slumber. This in turn generates wonder (thaumas), which, according to Socrates, is nothing other than the beginning of philosophy.

David D. Corey is Associate Professor of Political Philosophy at Baylor University and the coauthor (with J. Daryl Charles) of The Just War Tradition: An Introduction.


"In investigating Plato's fascinating intellectual encounters with the sophists with an eye for detail and for the dramatic aspects of Plato's dialogues, Corey's book fills a gap in the existing scientific literature not only on Plato, but on the sophists as well." — Arctos

"…the book makes a significant contribution to the scholarship of Platonic philosophy … For those looking for a nuanced and original account of Socrates, The Sophists in Plato's Dialogues is a book worth reading." — VoegelinView