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Is the definition of the sophist concluding Plato's Sophist successful? The question has remained controversial, and detailed studies remain rare. (1) The answer to it, however, is relevant to the dialogue as a whole. Its failure would suggest that the Eleatic Stranger's (the leading speaker, hereafter "the Stranger") solution to the perplexities of not-being, image, and falsehood, intended as the metaphysical underpinning for defining the sophist, may be problematic. Conversely, the success of the definition would not only suggest the soundness of the Stranger's metaphysics, but also further our understanding of how diaeresis (or the method of division) works. Since the method of division and late Platonic metaphysics are the most significant themes in the Sophist, a careful study of the final definition is urgent.

This paper will argue that the final definition of the sophist is a modest success. Section 1, building on Dixsaut's valuable study of our target passage, will argue that there is a roughly uniform structure in the seven divisions of the definition. Whenever the Stranger divides a class into two kinds, the sophist belongs to one kind, but appears as the other. Section 2 will show how this structure both explains its relative success and why the earlier definitions of the dialogue can be interpreted as instructive failures. As far as I am aware, commentators who also consider the final definition successful have yet to respond to the objections against it. Section 3 will make up for this lacuna and address four criticisms. The conclusion will then sketch the broader implications of this reading for the Sophist as a whole and for our understanding of the Platonic method of division.


Monique Dixsaut, in her penetrating discussion of the final definition, observed an interplay between sameness and difference, two of the five Platonic forms or kinds discussed in the Sophist, in the divisions just diagrammed. According to her, the Stranger divides a class into two kinds in the same way each time: the right-hand kind is different from the left-hand one; however, it denies this difference only by "eliminating ... an instance of the same." (2)

The clearest illustrations of this principle at work are the second and third divisions. The second division divides human production into production of "the things themselves" and "their images." The painting of the facade of a house deceives the viewer into thinking that it is a real house, and therefore puts the viewer in "a human dream, produced for those who are awake," (3) in other words, in a state in which one cannot tell originals and images apart. So, while the house and a painted facade of it are different (since one can live in a house, but not in a painting of it), it is the nature of the latter to pretend to be the former. The house, on the other hand, is not meant to look like a painting and does not pretend to be one. Its intelligibility does not depend on the intelligibility of its images. The intensive pronoun "themselves" is meant to mark this independence, this character of "being intelligible on its own." By "eliminating an instance of the same," then, Dixsaut means that the image threatens to cancel the distinction between image and original. The image attempts to rob the original of its independent and separate status by resembling it.

The third division, the one that had compelled the Stranger to discuss the perplexities of being and not-being in the dialogue, (4) divides human images into two kinds, likeness ([phrase omitted]) and phantasm ([phrase omitted]). A likeness is an accurate image: it preserves the proportions of the original. The maker of likenesses has the art of "eikastics." A phantasm, however, distorts this ratio due to necessary adjustments of perspective. As the Stranger explains, a very large statue viewed from the ground up will appear to the viewer to be inaccurate if one reproduces the proportions of the original as they are. For example, a very large statue of Pericles, if accurately made, would appear to the viewer to have a smaller head compared to the torso. The sculptor therefore applies "phantastics" to make the head of the statue slightly larger to compensate for the perspectival effect. (5) It follows from this that these two kinds of images also relate in the way stated by Dixsaut: a large phantasm of Pericles will then appear as a likeness to the ordinary viewer. To state this in terms more relevant to the dialogue, the sophist makes false speeches (speeches are spoken images (6)) that distort reality but sound true to inexperienced listeners. The relation between original and image is thus repeated on the level between these two kinds of images.

Dixsaut's thesis, as this section will argue, is by and large valid for the other divisions. However, not all of them are clear-cut cases of the right-hand class posing as the left-hand one. As is expected from Plato, this structure is not mechanically applied. Nevertheless, in each division some kind of interplay between "image" and "original," where each resembles the other while belonging to different kinds, can be observed. Generally speaking, in all divisions the sophist embodies the "image" element that blurs its difference from its "original," the original being some variety of the wise person, such as god or a philosopher.

Let us then turn to step one, the division of production into divine and human kinds. This division poses the question of whether the generation of natural beings such as plants, animals, and inanimate elements is the result of thoughtless, spontaneous nature or the product of an intelligent, knowledgeable god. If the answer is the former, then there is no divine production, and all production is human. Since the Stranger wishes to make this division, Theaetetus guesses that he should give the latter option as his answer.

The exchange that resulted in the division highlights the problematic character of this distinction. On the one hand, refusing to understand natural beings as divine products would result in no division, and nature would appear unintelligible. On the other hand, understanding natural beings in terms of human production seems to be committing the mistake of anthropomorphism and grasping the whole in terms of a part of it. By assimilating nature to the paradigm of production, the Stranger seems to be making the distinction in such a way that threatens to cancel itself.

The result of this division, however, is that the sophist is now tacitly contrasted with god. To be sure, this does not mean that the sophist's speeches pretend to be natural beings. What it does suggest is that the sophist's speeches pretend to the status of divine logos and knowledge. Divine logos manifests omniscience. And early on the Stranger had argued that what makes the sophist so impressive to young men is precisely his ability to say something contradicting others about any topic: the sophist's speeches are all-encompassing. So, while the sophist lacks substantive knowledge, his verbal skill in contradicting others gives him the semblance of a knowledgeable person. The sophist's ability to talk about everything (8) therefore appears as knowledge of everything in the eyes of young men. (9) The final definition therefore begins with a division reminding Theaetetus how the sophist blurs the difference between the human and the divine.

Steps two and three were already discussed, and they further contrast the sophist with actual artisans and those concerned with accuracy in image-making. Step four begins a new comparison. It divides all phantasm-making into a nameless and the impersonating kind ([phrase omitted]). The instruments employed to make deceptively accurate images can be either oneself or others. (10) Whenever someone "uses his own body to produce the appearing of similarities of your external behavior ([phrase omitted]), or his voice to produce yours," this is impersonation. (11) If someone uses anything else to create a deceptive image, that belongs to the nameless class.

While an impersonator by definition pretends to be someone else, and therefore an image-original dynamic is still at work here, there is no obvious sense in which an impersonator pretends to be someone who is using instruments or tools to make images. (12) So step four, strictly speaking, does not fit Dixsaut's thesis. Nevertheless, this division serves an important function. Notomi argues that this division directs the inquiry from what the sophist does to the person himself or what he is. (13) This is a crucial insight because it brings out the fact that the sophist deals with phantasms on two levels. One is the discursive level already noted: the sophist makes deceptive statements about reality to refute others. His statements are spoken phantasms of reality. But there is a second and more fundamental level: in making deceptive statements, the sophist simultaneously makes himself a phantasm of someone wise.

Early on, the Stranger had characterized the first division as a "lengthwise cut" and the second division a "widthwise" one. (14) This recalls 235d7-8, where it was said that a likeness is faithful to the original "in length, width, and depth." These two passages together suggest that, insofar as the final definition is meant to be a spoken likeness of the sophist, it will also disclose the sophist's "depth," who he is "on the inside." The sophist can be differentiated from a wise human only when the two are compared in terms of depth and not the surface. The term [phrase omitted] (exterior, external behavior) and its cognates will recur from now on, and this repetition draws attention to both the sophist's surface and what is "underneath" it. (15) The sophist reproduces the wise person's exterior without the corresponding insight. Otherwise put, the same [phrase omitted] can be sophistic or philosophical, and the remaining divisions are meant to articulate the difference between the two. The sophist from now on will be tacitly compared with the person that is humanly wise, namely, the philosopher.

Step five divides "phantasmic" impersonation into the investigative and opinion-imitative ([phrase omitted])) kinds. An example of the latter is the multitude who imitate only the exterior ([phrase omitted]) of justice. They, "not ignorant, but somehow opining [what justice or virtue is], are eager to produce the appearance that what they judge to be virtue is in them." (16) According to this description, the multitude are two removes from being just: not only is true justice absent in their souls, but even their opinion of what justice is is not really in them. [phrase omitted], as its name suggests, is a double deception, because it imitates only the exterior of an untrue opinion about justice. Likewise, the sophist is actually reproducing only the surface of what common opinion considers wisdom to be.

Again, the sophist does not pretend to be the left-hand class, namely, an investigator, since the sophist's claim to wisdom eliminates the need for inquiry. Nevertheless, these two classes resemble each other. One can see this by considering the left-hand branch. Ordinary impersonation is based on knowledge of the individual being imitated. (17) Moreover, impersonation seems to be essentially phantasmic. The impersonator deliberately exaggerates a gesture of the impersonated so that his audience reacts, "Yes, the impersonated person behaves exactly like that!" This impression of "exactly," as if the audience are presented with a likeness of the impersonated one, is the accuracy produced by exaggeration. And through his skill, the impersonator brings out something hitherto unnoticed about the impersonated person. In other words, an inaccurate image is made in service of revealing something true about the original.

Philosophical inquiry similarly employs this kind of impersonation for investigative purposes. The philosopher can "exaggerate," that is, think through a thought, for the sake of comprehending the full implications and limits of that thought. When Socrates examined what knowledge is with Theaetetus, he "acted out" the young man's opinion that knowledge is perception. Socrates impersonated someone who believes that knowledge is perception so that the meaning of this definition comes to light and its insights and oversights can be laid bare. What Socrates did was an example of investigative impersonation. Moreover, the reaction he elicited shows how such impersonation can be confused with the opinion-imitative kind. After Socrates spoke as if he fully believed in the examined definition, Theaetetus wondered: does Socrates really believe it, and Theaetetus should feel flattered? Or is Socrates only pretending in order to test him? (18) In other words: is Socrates a sophist or a philosopher? Theaetetus's hesitation, in other words, reflects the apparent resemblance of the two classes examined here.

The consideration of Socrates as a contrast to the sophist is not arbitrary because, from now on, he or his type becomes the sophist's other in the discussion. Earlier definitions of the sophist in the dialogue showed that there is considerable similarity between the contradicting activities of the sophist (the art of controverting or gainsaying, [phrase omitted]) and Socrates' art of refutation ([phrase omitted]). This similarity culminated in the view that the refuter was also defined as a sophist, albeit a "noble" one. (19) Part of the task in the remainder of the dialogue is to define the sophist appropriately so that he can be isolated from the Socratic philosopher. Many divisions in the final definition become intelligible only when this issue is kept in mind.

If step five only alludes to the contrast between the sophist and Socrates (or a Socratic philosopher) obliquely, the last two steps bring it to the fore. Step six distinguishes the naive ([phrase omitted]) (20) or simple (21) from the ironic ([phrase omitted]) (22) or duplicitous (23) impersonator. The naive or simple person, in impersonating opinions, opines himself to actually know them. He thinks he knows what justice and virtue are, believing himself to be wise. The sophist, who is instead ironic or duplicitous, is complex. Due to his experience with arguments and counterarguments, the sophist's exterior ([phrase omitted]) differs from what he actually believes. (24) He "gives the air" ([phrase omitted]) (26) of believing himself wise, but secretly suspects himself to be actually ignorant of what he claims to know. His irony therefore consists in the disparity between his outward behavior and internal state. He conceals his fear, however, and professes to be wise. His exterior, in other words, resembles the simple or naive person while differing from him.

This division is puzzling. "Ironic" is the epithet regularly applied by many characters to Socrates in the dialogues; by contrast, the sophists (consider Hippias, Euthydemus, and Dionysodorus) are often depicted as simple or foolish, showing no sign that they harbor misgivings concerning their claim to wisdom. Has the attempt to distinguish the sophist from the Socratic philosopher ended up capturing the latter once more instead? Is this not a repetition of the mistake made early on in defining the refuter?

The attribution can be explained by the following consideration. (26) If the sophist knew something and thought he knew it, he would simply be wise and no longer a sophist. If he did not know but thought he knew, he would be just foolish and in need of refutation. If he did not know but did not think he knew, he would turn out to be a Socratic. Hence, if the sophist lacks knowledge and yet succeeds in appearing knowledgeable, his state must be somewhere between the foolish person and a Socratic. This in-between state means that he vaguely senses he might not know what he is talking about. His experiences with arguments indicate this vague awareness already, but, as Notomi elegantly puts it, "[T]he sophist disbelieves arguments (logoi) in an ultimate sense; for his inner self refuses to follow what the argument shows." (27) The sophist's skill with arguments and counterarguments brings him extremely close to the state that is knowledge of ignorance, but he does not accept those arguments. He therefore must be ironic. (28)

It remains the case that while the Stranger is not mistakenly defining Socrates as a sophist, this could be easily misunderstood. Socrates is simple because he states directly what he believes about himself. But precisely because of his simplicity, others suspect him of duplicity. He therefore appears as a sophist. One might say that even in defining the sophist, the confusion cannot be completely avoided, because the definition can articulate but not eliminate the indeterminacy of their shared appearances. (29)

The seventh and final step divides speeches into public and private ones. Notably, the Stranger characterizes public speeches as long, continuous ones and private ones as short, compelling the interlocutor to contradict himself. (30) Early on in the inquiry, the sophist was said to contradict people in both private and public settings about any topic. Here, the definition restricts his art to a private setting. But the sophists' claim to teach the speeches appropriate in political assemblies and law courts was, as Theaetetus said, their sole charm. If they didn't make this claim, "pretty much no one would converse with them." (31) The Stranger's definition implies that the sophist, although his art is useful with individuals, cannot accomplish what is needed for the practice of politics. The sophist, on his part, must argue against such a restriction of his art. In short, this definition suggests that the sophist's common boast of being able to speak about anything in any mode of speech is really only a boast and unjustified.

As in the previous division, what is defined as the sophist again appears to be referring to features of the Socratic philosopher instead. Speaking with others in private, one-on-one, and making one's interlocutor contradict oneself through short speeches are hallmarks of Socratic conversation. But this is deceptive. One crucial difference between the sophist's contradicting activities described here and refutation described earlier is that refutation exposes genuine contradictions, that is, conflicting beliefs held by one and the same soul. (32) Here, the Stranger implies, the sophist does not distinguish between verbal and genuine contradictions. He is satisfied as long as he can paralyze his interlocutor from responding, regardless of whether he does so fairly or not. The sophist's art of contradiction is here then differentiated from Socratic refutation and its pretense to political significance also debunked.

To sum up: the divisions tacitly compare the sophist with the left-hand classes (with the exception of the fourth division) as images with their originals. The first three divisions identify the sophist's speeches as phantasms and contrasted him with divine wisdom, the wisdom of craftsmen (who make "things themselves"), and the wisdom of truthful image-makers. From the fourth division on, the definition turns to articulate the sophist's self as a phantasm, and contrasts his empty interior or lack of substance with embodied wisdom of the human sort, the Socratic philosopher. In the final three divisions, the sophist resembles the investigative, the simple, and the political speaker, but the differences between them in terms of "depth" were revealed.


The final definition, then, consistently compares the sophist as an image to the original he pretends to be in each division. But how does this show that the definition is successful? To explain this, I turn to a crucial juncture in the dialogue. After having heard and accepted several definitions of the sophist, Theaetetus reacts by saying that he is confused because the sophist has appeared many times ([phrase omitted]), but what he really is ([phrase omitted]) (33) remains unclear. Shortly after this, the Stranger indicates what would count as a successful definition of the sophist:
   So do you notice that, whenever someone appears knowledgeable of
   many things, but is addressed by the name of a single art, this
   appearance (to ([phrase omitted]) is not sound ([phrase omitted]),
   but it is clear that he who experiences this is unable to discern,
   with respect to any art, the point of that art to which ([phrase
   omitted]) all those of his learnings look, and on account of this,
   one addresses him who has these learnings by many names instead of
   one? (34)

Precisely through sharpening the sense of Theaetetus's perplexity, the Stranger indicates a way out of it. Each of the previous definitions revealed at least one specialty of the sophist. For example, the first definition made him a hunter of young men, the second a merchant of learnings of the soul, and so on. But he only has one name, [phrase omitted]. Something is not right if we cannot indicate some single thing behind this name: in other words, the earlier definitions have not yet disclosed the sophist's being. All they have accomplished is to state the various arts the sophist knows or appears to know. They still do not know (1) the proprietary art of the sophist or (2) his purpose that all his other learnings have in view. To illustrate this point with the pilot: his proprietary art would be piloting, and the purpose of piloting would be, say, the security of the ship and his crew. He might study things pertaining to this purpose, such as how to predict the weather, some rhetorical skill for the sake of settling disputes among sailors, and so on. While these learnings do not belong to piloting proper, the pilot employs them "with a view to" ([phrase omitted]) the safety of his ship. (35)

The proprietary art and its purpose lend unity to an artisan's manifold activities or learnings. It would therefore have explanatory power by revealing the reason why he is seen doing different things. The pilot studies how the weather works not as a meteorologist but as a pilot. The discovery, identification, and subsequent articulation of the purpose of an artisan would then disclose his being or proper nature ([phrase omitted]) (36) through speech. This passage therefore suggests that, in assessing the final definition of the sophist, one must ask two questions. Does it show his proprietary art and his purpose in employing it? And, once the sophist's proper nature is thus revealed, how does it explain the other things he knows or appears to know?

The first question can be answered in the affirmative. The sophist's proprietary art is the art of contradicting others ([phrase omitted]). (37) By showing himself capable of contradicting any position about any topic, he achieves his purpose, namely, the semblance of omniscience. (38) The purpose or the nature in his employment of that art is therefore pretense to wisdom ([phrase omitted]). The sophist recognizes the value of wisdom not for its own sake but for the reputation or fame ([phrase omitted]) it brings to him. He therefore strives for the appearance of wisdom, in contrast to the philosopher's striving for genuine wisdom. (39)

This purpose is disclosed in the final definition in the following way. While the definition never explicitly speaks of pretense to wisdom, it exhibits this nature in the very way each division is made. The pretense to wisdom means to be different from genuine wisdom and yet resemble it. And, as section 1 showed, the divisions of the final definition are made in terms of this very feature. To reiterate: the sophist presents his seeming wisdom as divine; (40) he makes false speeches sound true and in this way impersonates the speeches of a knowledgeable person; although secretly in fear, he confidently makes claims to knowledge; and finally, he can only refute in private but resembles a demagogue. In short, as the phantom of wisdom, the sophist is not what he appears to be. "Pretense to wisdom," in short, is the structuring principle in accordance with which the Stranger makes his divisions.

The disclosure of the sophist's nature allows the second question to be answered in the affirmative as well. To see how the sophist's pretense to wisdom performs an explanatory role, we need to first point out exactly what it is in the earlier definitions that contributed to the inquiry. It has been suggested above that the final definition excludes the sixth definition of the refuter as a sophist in the final three steps. But what about the other five definitions? (41) My answer is that the earlier definitions are failures as definitions; however, they are not therefore simply false. This point can be made more precise. While it is false to say that the sophist is a hunter, it is not completely wrong to say that he "hunts," that is, associates with, young men. (42) He is not an athlete, (43) but he does fight with words. (44) Otherwise put, incorrect classification does not automatically imply false predication. It is in this way that the earlier definitions still say something meaningful about ([phrase omitted]) the sophist. (45)

What do these definitions say? One way to extract such information from the earlier definitions is to read the definitions "horizontally," that is, to see what sorts of common features are picked out across them. (46) Such an extraction yields the following description of the sophist's appearance: he travels, (47) associates with young men, (48) and makes money by trading or selling his learnings. (49) As Rosen puts it, the earlier definitions provide "phenomenological" accounts of the sophist: they articulate various perspectives from which he can be observed. (50) These features are absent in the final definition--but this does not at all mean that it was false or incorrect to think that the sophist has those features. Their absence in the final definition means, rather, that they are not essential features, that they do not show the sophist for what he is. These features must instead be explained by the the sophist's nature.

Let us again take Socrates as a point of contrast. The historical sophists sometimes boast of their wealth. Socrates, on the other hand, speaks of his poverty and not charging tuition for conversations. A concern with money seems to be a strong candidate for what the sophist is about, and differentiates him from a Socratic. But money is absent in the final definition. This absence seems to both bring the sophist closer to Socrates and neglect something important about the sophist. But this is only apparent. Wealth or money is excluded because it is not the sophist's ultimate purpose. His concern for money ought to be understood in terms of his concern for the reputation of wisdom, not the other way around. The sophist does not pursue wealth for wealth's sake. In the Hippias Major, the sophist Hippias is depicted as boasting of his wealth. He appears to be a lover of money. What he really is proud of, however, is not that he is rich, but that he became rich through the immense popularity of his courses. (51) So he cares about wealth insofar as it is a sign of his reputation for wisdom. Conversely, there are people who are unconcerned with wealth but are still concerned with seeming wise, and they are no less sophists than those who do pursue wealth. Such considerations show that the exclusion of wealth or money from the final definition is justified.

Similar reasoning accounts for the disappearance of "association with young men" and "traveling from city to city" from the final definition as well. The sophist associates with young men both because they look up to the wisdom of eloquence (52) and because they are also more liable to be deceived due to their inexperience with reality. (53) Only because it is easier to deceive young men does the sophist spend more time around them. He might associate with the old too if the old people were similarly gullible or credulous. The goal of pretense to wisdom therefore means that his target audience are not young men per se, but any foolish or inexperienced person. Likewise, even though many sophists traveled, its omission again means that traveling in and of itself is not what makes the sophist what he is. Conversely, his nature--the goal to have a reputation for wisdom--explains this: he is inclined to travel so that he may exploit the unequal distribution of knowledge across cities and political boundaries. (54) He could learn something discovered in one city and teach it in another. His traveling activity is also then explained by or understood to be an accidental effect of his ultimate purpose. (55)

In short, according to the criteria for a successful definition provided in the Sophist itself, the final definition is a success.


Several commentators, however, argue that the final definition fails. I deal with four major ones below:

(a) The final definition suffers from a crucial defect: sophistry is not an art. At the beginning of the inquiry, the Stranger and Theaetetus suppose that the sophist's name itself signals his expert status, and therefore he cannot possibly be an amateur ([phrase omitted]). (56) But they are dividing arts and attempting to locate the place of sophistry within all arts. According to this diagnosis, the cause of failure is the application of division to an unsuitable object. (57)

But on what grounds do the commentators claim that sophistry is not an art? The authoritative statement occurs in the Gorgias 464b-465d. But that passage is inconclusive. To begin with, that view is expressed by Socrates, not the Stranger. Moreover, that passage in the Gorgias is rather complicated. To begin with, it disqualifies sophistry from being an art by a problematic argument. Sophistry and rhetoric are not arts because, it is argued, activities aiming at the satisfaction of pleasures instead of what is truly good cannot become arts. (58) However, there is no reason why, for example, singing, dancing, or cooking cannot be done skillfully simply because they do not have something other than pleasure in view. (59) Nor are we given reasons to think that such a conception of [phrase omitted] is at work in the divisions in the Sophist. All things considered, Plato's stance on whether sophistry and rhetoric are arts is more complicated than Gorgias 464b-465d suggests.

Besides, just as the Gorgias qualifies the strong statement that rhetoric and sophistry are not arts through the context and the argument, the Sophist also subtly challenges its own assumption that sophistry is an art. At least three places--221d1-4, 254a5, and 268b11c1--suggest that the Stranger is aware of the alternative view that sophistry is not an art. In the first passage, it is actually Theaetetus--in other words, a young man who would likely fall prey to the sophist's verbal deceptions--who assigns the sophist the status of having an art. In the second passage, the Stranger characterizes the sophist as lingering in the darkness of not-being [phrase omitted], "by a knack," the same word Socrates used in Gorgias 463b to describe why the rhetoricians have the semblance of being skillful. In the third and final passage, at the end of the inquiry, Theaetetus notes that the private ([phrase omitted], echoing [phrase omitted] in 221d1-4) contradictor cannot be [phrase omitted] because they have set the sophist down as "not knowing ([phrase omitted])." These three passages allude to the alternative understanding of sophistry stated in the Gorgias, hitting at the possibility that the sophist might only have experience but not expertise. But they do no more than hint at this. They surely do not confirm that the Sophist's presentation of the sophist is a failure, only that the full picture might be more complicated than what is said here.

More directly put, these allusive passages suggest that there is something to this objection after all, because the sophist is indeed difficult to define, or "extremely slippery" as the Stranger puts it ([phrase omitted]). (60) The sophist is slippery because he both is ignorant of what he is talking about and yet succeeds in making us think he is wise about it. (61) His ignorance should disqualify him from having a [phrase omitted], but his ability to deceive suggests a skill. The sophist can be said to be a perverse version of Socrates' knowledge of ignorance. Socrates' professed ignorance reveals his knowledge, his full awareness of the difficulties of the topic under discussion, while the sophist's "knowledge" conceals his ignorance. Indeed, his sophistry allows him to not even feel the pain of ignorance. Is the sophist's constant success due to his outstanding intuition of the beliefs of his audience, or to a genuine skill? Given what can be observed of the sophist, it is no more wrong to think that he has an art than to suppose that he has nothing but a knack for deceiving.

This objection, then, prevents us from seeing the final definition as definitive, but it should not make one miss the insight articulated therein. As the Stranger himself puts it, the final definition has the status of [phrase omitted] ("as it is likely") (62) and [phrase omitted] is whence the term for accurate images is derived. This implies that the definition, while an accurate image of the sophist, nevertheless remains an image and thus falls short of reflecting the sophist himself in full detail.

(b) The second objection also claims that the sophist or sophistry is an unsuitable object for division, but for a different reason. According to the Stranger, division proceeds by disregarding questions of better and worse. It focuses only on similarities and dissimilarities, (63) collecting the former and dividing the latter. But, the objection goes, defining the sophist properly, and differentiating him from the philosopher in particular, cannot proceed without answering questions of better and worse. Sophistry is a lowly art; a method that disregards questions of noble and base cannot capture its essential baseness. Since on this reasoning, all definitions of the sophist by division must fail, the final one fails as well." (64)

These commentators are right: the sophist can be defined properly only if one asks questions about better and worse. The Stranger's own analogy is helpful here: the dog and the wolf have resembling appearances, but the former is the most tame, the latter the most savage, (65) and the recognition of "tame" and "savage" involve understanding "better" and "worse" besides similarities. Analogously, the philosopher and the sophist also have resembling appearances, but one is a friend of truth, and the other an ally of deception and falsehood. To distinguish the two apart, one must uphold the honor and value of truth over falsehoods. (66)

But the objection stands only if the final definition actually adheres to the methodological principle that division should disregard questions of better and worse. Commentators usually take it for granted that the Stranger follows this principle in all his divisions. But section 1 indicates that, in the final definition, he does not fully follow it. Consider once more, in this respect, the division between likeness making and phantasm making: it is a division of two kinds of image-making that produce resembling products. To repeat: a phantasm, when artfully made, appears as a likeness to the intended viewer. If one divided by similarities and dissimilarities alone, the two would be one and the same kind. Instead, the Stranger distinguishes the two apart because the former is truthful to originals and the latter only deceptively so. In other words, the division is made not at all on the basis of similarity and dissimilarity alone, but also on the basis that truthfulness is better and deception worse. It is a division made by considering the question of better and worse. Since most divisions in the final definition reflected such a structure, it can be said that the sophist is defined as "the worse (branch) that only superficially resembles its better counterpart." The final definition therefore does not follow the methodological principle of neutrality by the letter; it distinguishes better from worse similarities.

If this is the case, the reader is compelled to wonder, on the present reading offered, what one should make of the "methodological principle" passage that demanded disregarding questions of better and worse. A careful look at that passage would take me beyond this paper, but I will briefly discuss this in the conclusion.

(c) I can be brief with the third objection because it has already been partly dealt with in the previous sections. According to this view, the definition fails because it ends up defining Socrates, who is not a sophist. We have seen before that "ironic" and "causing the interlocutor to contradict himself by short questions and answers in private" appear to characterize Socrates instead of the sophist. Section 2 also noted how the final definition, in abstracting from the observable traits of sophists in general, seems to cancel the obvious differences between Socrates and the sophist. Is not the general drift of the definition, then, approximating a characterization of Socrates instead? To quote Rosen: "The culmination of the hunt for the sophist is to identify Socrates as a practitioner of that art." (67)

Besides what has already been said before, let me add one more reason why this objection does not hold. Rosen's claim is imprecise: the final definition, on the reading offered here, captures not Socrates, but Socrates' appearance. Differently stated, the final definition is simultaneously a likeness of the sophist and a phantasm of the philosopher.' (68) Insofar as the Stranger finally confirms Socrates' initial insight that the philosopher might appear as a sophist, (69) he has not come to accuse or philosophically punish Socrates, but rather to defend him. What I mean is that, precisely by revealing the sophist as Socrates' appearance to others, he offers an indirect explanation of why Socrates is on trial: the Athenian people mistook him for someone else. Moreover, paradoxical as it may seem, it is actually a strength of the final definition that it appears to refer to Socrates instead of the sophist, because now the relation between the Socratic philosopher and the sophist is articulated with some level of exactness and on a higher level of reflection than when they began the conversation. (70) And even the difficulty of catching the sophist is expressed here through his apparent indistinguishability from the philosopher. In other words, once it is realized that the final definition defines Socrates' appearance and not his being, the objection against it turns out to be a reason to commend it.

(d) The final objection is raised by Dorter. It seems absurd to distinguish the sophist from the philosopher in terms of false or deceptive and true statements. The sophist does not exclusively deal in false statements (he might even utter true ones), nor is the philosopher free from error. The real difference between the two, Dorter contends, concerns intention: one cares about truth and knowledge, the other does not. But the final definition establishes a connection between "the sophist is the spurious version of the wise" and "he says false things." Since there is no such connection, the definition fails. (71)

Dorter is right that the difference between the sophist and the philosopher cannot be reduced to the contrast between deceptive (false) and true statements. And the Stranger does give the impression that he is guilty of such reductionism. Careful consideration of the text, however, shows this impression to be mistaken. Already in the conversation, the Stranger criticized predecessors who gave incorrect accounts of being ([phrase omitted]). But he treated them as philosophers who were mistaken, not sophists who gave false accounts of being. (72) And, as was seen above, the philosopher can also employ phantastics, that is, the art of making seemingly true statements for investigative purposes. In short, the philosopher's complex relation to falsehood is acknowledged in the dialogue and not reduced to a simple alliance to truth.

Furthermore, the dialogue also accepts that the sophist might utter true statements. The final definition does not deny this; it only denies that the sophist does so by art. Otherwise put, there are two dimensions in which the sophist is inseparable from falsehoods. First, he utters true statements only by chance, not by knowledge. Second, he is more or less subservient to his audience, who are generally unwise and full of false beliefs. (73) None of these excludes the possibility that the sophist can say something true, namely, when his audience happens to be right concerning the topic of discussion. Generally, however, given the ignorance of the majority, the sophist will concentrate on masking falsehoods as truths. Such an analysis not only agrees with Dorter's view, but also indicates that the sophist's unconcern with truth links him with falsehood in a fundamental way that is not disclosed by Dorter.


The Sophist and the Statesman offer division as a philosophical method, but the statements on how the method should be employed are scanty and not always clear. The interpreter must therefore also observe how division is actually employed to arrive at a fuller picture. It is best to begin with a successful instance of division, using it as a yardstick for comparison with the unsuccessful ones. This paper has argued that the final definition of the sophist is one of those instances. (74) If the arguments offered in support of this view are sound, what do we learn about division? Two lines of further inquiry will be sketched below by way of conclusion.

The first point concerns the passage (discussed in section 3) stating the "neutral" stance of division. (75) If my reading is correct, then the final definition violates what that passage recommends. If that is the case, there are several ways of interpreting this conflict. Maybe that passage requires a new interpretation so that it does not conflict with the final definition. (76) It is also possible that the Stranger has not committed a mistake, but knowingly violates his own stated principle. (77) The most intriguing possibility, I think, is that his methodological remark is valid only under certain conditions, and he mentions it precisely in a context (namely, inquiry into the sophist) where those conditions are not satisfied. (78) No matter which possibility is the case, a fresh look at 227a7-c6 and its position in the dialogue as a whole is necessary. It is suspected that, once further work is done, the usual picture of division in the Sophist as quasi-scientific or "value-neutral" will need to be somewhat revised.

Second, the reading might shed light on an expression used to characterize division and discussed by Brown. (79) She notes two ways of understanding Kara in the phrase, [phrase omitted]. One is that division must proceed in accordance with forms or kinds; the other, to divide into them. But there is a possible third interpretation. 267d5-6 characterizes division as [phrase omitted]. This phrase can be translated into its verbal equivalent, [phrase omitted]. In other words, [phrase omitted], which Brown focused on, might actually be a shorthand for this more complete formula. This suggests that division is "to divide classes in accordance with [phrase omitted] and supports the common interpretation of [phrase omitted] as "in accordance with." But there is more: the reading of the final definition offered here suggests a precise sense for [phrase omitted] as well: [phrase omitted] may mean "in accordance with the essential characters (of each being)" instead of the more general "in accordance with the natural joints." (80) To illustrate, when the Stranger divides production, he divides in terms of ([phrase omitted]) the sophist's pretension to wisdom (his [phrase omitted]), and the result is the divided classes ([phrase omitted]) between original and images pretending to be originals.

One advantage of this reading is that division does not need to assume that there is a stable, unchanging kind-structure, as the ordinary "natural joints" reading might suggest, according to which defining something is a matter of simply locating and isolating it in a stable network of divisions. Instead, the divided kind-structure may vary depending on the object of inquiry. It is because the sophist's essence is [phrase omitted] that the final definition articulates production in the way it does. Should another producer be divided, a different articulation would be expected. (81) So this reading not only suggests a precise sense of understanding [phrase omitted], it also seems to allow for nonarbitrary variations in the articulations of [phrase omitted]. Such an allowance for variations might explain, for example, why the sophist is defined according to the division of all arts into production and acquisition, but the statesman follows the division of arts into theoretical and practical ones. This line of thought, if pursued further, might end up in a picture of Platonic division that differs from the kind-ladder conceived by Aristotle. (82)

National Taiwan University

Correspondence to: Department of Philosophy, No. 18 Siyuan St., Taipei, Taiwan 10087.

(1) Not all full-length commentaries on the Sophist deal with our target section substantively. Those that do include Stanley Rosen, Plato's Sophist: The Drama of Original and Image (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1983), 309-14; Kenneth Dorter, Form and Good in Plato's Eleatic Dialogues (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 165-80; Noburu Notomi, The Unity of Plato's Sophist: Between the Sophist and the Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 270-301. Individual studies devoted to this section include Monique Dixsaut, "La derniere definition du Sophiste (Sophiste 265a-268d5)," [phrase omitted] <<Chercheurs de sagesse>> Hommage a Jean Pepin, ed. Marie-Odile Goulet-Caze, Goulven Madec, and Denis O'Brien (Turnhout: Institut d'Etudes Augustiniennes, 1992), 45-75; Lesley Brown, "Definition and Division in Plato's Sophist," in Definition in Greek Philosophy, ed. David Charles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 151-71; Mary Louise Gill, "Division and Definition in Plato's Sophist and Statesman," in Definition in Greek Philosophy, 172-200. Micah Lott, "Ignorance, Shame, and Love of Truth: Diagnosing the Sophist's Error in Plato's Sophist," Phoenix 1, no. 2 (2012): 36-56, mainly devoted to a discussion of noble sophistry, contains a brief but insightful discussion on the final definition (46-52). Of the commentators above, Dixsaut, Notomi, and Lott consider the final definition a success; several others consider it a failure. Gill appears to adopt a middle position: a success with obvious problems.

(2) Disxaut, "La Derniere Definition," 46 (emphasis added). Her complete statement runs: "Le principe en sera que, a chaque etape, la division constitue deux especes dont l'une, celle de droite, a pour unique ambition de recuser le principe qui l'a constitute, puisqu'elle tend a se faire passer pour l'autre, celle laissee a gauche--ce qu'elle ne peut faire qu'en eliminant, chaque fois, une instance du meme."

(3) 265c9. All references are to the Sophist, unless otherwise noted. All Stephanus line numbers are from the Sophist according to John Burnet's edition: Platonis Opera, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1900) unless otherwise noted. Translations are my own.

(4) 235d6-259b7.

(5) 235e5-236a3.

(6) 234c6.

(7) 265c8-9.

(8) 233a3.

(9) 233c6.

(10) 267a3-4.

(11) 267a6-8.

(12) Can this be the reason why the Stranger declines to give the class a name? Because it is not meant as a contrast with the sophist?

(13) Notomi, Unity, 281-82. Corresponding to this, there is a shift in the meaning of [phrase omitted]: before it meant representing, but now it begins to bear the meaning of "mimicking" (thus the translation "impersonating"). See ibid., 279-82 for a discussion of this shift.

(14) 266a1-2.

(15) 267a6, b12, c2, 268a2, a4.

(16) 267c3-5.

(17) 267b7, b11-12.

(18) Theaetetus 157c4-6.

(19) 231b3-8,

(20) 267e10.

(21) 268a6.

(22) 268a7.

(23) 267a8.

(24) 268a1-2.

(25) 268a3.

(26) Compare a different argument in Notomi, Unity, 288-92.

(27) Ibid., 291.

(28) This division suggests, I believe, that those who lack such a suspicion and inner fear--think of Plato's Euthydemus or Hippias--might be sophists only to a lesser degree or are named thus by accident. This should not be surprising given that later, in the Statesman, the Stranger will state an analogous view about [phrase omitted]. Some are called [phrase omitted] simply because of their power in a city, not because they deserve the name, while others who deserve the name, who are [phrase omitted], are not called thus because they never actually managed or ruled a city.

(29) I will come back to this in section 3 below.

(30) 268b 1-5.

(31) 232d1-4.

(32) 230b7-8.

(33) 231b9-c2.

(34) 232a1-6.

(35) This interpretation has much in common with Rosen, Plato's Sophist, 157-60, with a crucial difference: he does not distinguish between an art and its purpose. The distinction is important, however, because they serve different functions in the method of division. To anticipate, the object of division is the art (the sophist's image-making skill), and the purpose constitutes the principle of dividing (see section 4 below).

(36) 264e3-65a1.

(37) 268c8.

(38) 233c6, 234c6-7.

(39) am roughly in agreement with the broad outlines of Gill's reading of the final definition. However, my claim that the sophist's essence is seeming wisdom differs from hers ("Division," 182). On her reading, the sophist's art of making phantasms is the sophist's essence and explains how the sophist seems wise. On my reading, the situation is the reverse: seeming wise is the sophist's essence and purpose, which explains the manner in which he uses phantastics, that is, in opinion-imitative fashion, and not for the sake of discovery. The reading offered here has the advantage of explaining why phantasms are created and employed not only by the sophist but by the philosopher as well: they use them in different ways, as explained in section 1.

(40) 233a3-4

(41) See Notomi, Unity, 274-78, 295-96.

(42) 222a9-11.

(43) 225a2, 231e1.

(44) 225a12-b1.

(45) Once this distinction between "predication" and "class assignment" is made, the critique by Samuel C. Rickless, "Plato's Definition(s) of Sophistry," Ancient Philosophy 30 (2010): 289-98, against what he calls the "Sayre-Gill-Notomi" interpretation of the relation between the definitions of the sophist (namely, that the initial definitions only capture contingent properties of the sophist) loses some of its force. His own alternative is to claim that those properties are only apparent but not real (295-96). But this proposal has its own problems: it sounds strange if not absurd to say that the sophist only apparently and does not really make money. My distinction is meant to preserve the insight in Notomi and Gill by arguing that the relation between the initial definitions and the final one is not simply contingency versus essential, but, more importantly, explananda and explanans.

(46) Notomi, Unity, 47-48; David Ambuel, Image and Paradigm in Plato's Sophist (Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2007), 46. As Kenneth Sayre, Metaphysics and Method in Plato's Statesman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 65, suggests, one can also read the initial definitions as exemplifying the process of "collection," which the final definition treats as the "material" for grasping with a unifying account. Without committing myself to interpreting the initial definitions in the Sophist as "collection" and the final one as "division," I remark that Sayre's reading also encourages a "horizontal" survey across the initial definitions.

(47) 222a9-11, 223d9-10.

(48) 223b5, 239e4.

(49) 223a4, c10, 225e1-2.

(50) Rosen, Plato's Sophist, 100. However, his inference that all seven definitions in the Sophist fail "from a quasi-mathematical or arithmetical standpoint" but "in a phenomenological sense, they are all accurate," seems to me exaggerated.

(51) Hippias Major 282a-283b.

(52) 232dl-4, 233b 1-7.

(53) 234c3-e6.

(54) 222a9-11, 224b4-7.

(55) I note in passing that, in the context of the conversation, the exclusion of traveling frees the Stranger himself and Theodorus from the suspicion of being sophists, since both have come to Athens as foreign teachers.

(56) 221d1-4.

(57) Rosen, Plato's Sophist, 84; Ambuel, Image and Paradigm, 42-45; Brown, "Definition," 164; Mary Louise Gill, Philosophos: Plato's Missing Dialogue (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 170.

(58) Gorgias 465a.

(59) David Roochnik, "Socrates' Rhetorical Attack on Rhetoric," in The Third Way: New Directions in Platonic Studies, ed. Francisco J. Gonzalez (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), 85. This article explains in detail how the critique of rhetoric in the Gorgias is heavily qualified by its dialogical context.

(60) 231a8.

(61) Rosen, Plato's Sophist, 102, puts this point rather well.

(62) 268d4.

(63) 227a7-b6.

(64) Rosen, Plato's Sophist, 120-21, 135; Dorter, Form,, 174-75; Francisco J. Gonzalez, "On the Way to Sophia: Heidegger on Plato's Dialectic, Ethics, and Sophist," Research in Phenomenology 27, no. 1 (1997): 42-46; Catherine H. Zuckert, "Who's a Philosopher? Who's a Sophist? The Stranger v. Socrates," The Review of Metaphysics 54, no. 1 (September 2000): 96-97. I discussed this objection cursorily in "Plato's Sophist on the Goodness of Truth," Epoche: A Journal for the History of Philosophy 21, no. 2 (Spring 2017): 340-42.

(65) 231a6.

(66) 249c6-10

(67) Plato's Sophist, 313. Rosen's general thesis regarding the plot of this dialogue is that the Stranger has come to Athens to accuse Socrates of practicing sophistry because he destroys traditional morality without offering anything in its place. While I do not share this reading of the Sophist, it is an intriguing reading that deserves more attention. If Rosen were right, at least one implication is that the Stranger's fails to define the sophist on purpose.

(68) Jeng, "Goodness of Truth," 343.

(69) 216d1.

(70) Ambuel, Image and Paradigm, 173, comments that the final definition, by defining the sophist as an "imitation of the philosopher," "is a true one, and yet it reveals little more than was apparent at the very outset." Ambuel implies, in other words, that the Stranger ultimately doesn't say anything more than what Socrates said in the beginning. This remark seems to me to misunderstand the circular nature of Platonic inquiry. The initial insight and its repetition at the end of inquiry appear the same, but are actually quite different. The Stranger and Theaetetus are now on solid ground, being able to back up Socrates' statement with an ontological or logical doctrine.

(71) Dorter, Form, 167-68.

(72) 254a8-9.

(73) See 216c5.

(74) The other one that occurs in the Sophist is, of course, the angler that the Stranger offers as a practice session for Theaetetus, but that instance is not particularly helpful because of the manifest character of the angler: he is how he appears, whereas the sophist is not so. See Gill, "Division," 179.

(75) 227a7-c6.

(76) Zina Giannopoulou, '"The Sophistry of Noble Lineage' Revisited: Plato's Sophist 226bl-231b8," Illinois Classical Studies 26 (2001): 107 n. 28 hints at such a possible interpretation. She attempts to argue that the preoccupation with similarities does not rule out considerations of "utility" altogether.

(77) This possibility is explored in Jeng, "Goodness of Truth," 335-49.

(78) In discussing the sort of objects that are defined by the method of division, Christina Ionescu, "Dialectic in Plato's Sophist: Division and the Communion of Kinds," Arethusa 46, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 41-64 states that the object varies in accordance with the level of understanding of the inquirers. In other words, the object is not always a Platonic form and sometimes might be a classification of participants of forms. If Ionescu is correct, then division might have different uses and follow different guidelines at different stages in inquiry. It is then not far-fetched to think that the "disregard of questions of better and worse" might be valid for only one or a number of those stages but not all of them.

(79) Brown, "Definition," 155-57.

(80) That [phrase omitted] is plural is not problematic even if there is just one essence for each object of inquiry, because the Stranger is speaking of defining beings in general.

(81) Gill, "Division," 192, would seem to be right: "Different target kinds (the angler, the sophist, the statesman) prompt the investigators to carve up the world in different ways.... Thus what counts as a 'natural joint' ... a proper break between kinds, depends on the goal of the investigation." By showing how the sophist's essence determines each of the seven divisions in the final definition, my reading backs up her point with a new interpretation of textual evidence.

(82) Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, ed. Constantin V. Boundas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 253-66, claims that the difference between Aristotelian kind-ladders and Platonic division is that in the former, one is dealing with the structure between genuine kinds, while in the latter, the whole concern is about distinguishing genuine from spurious kinds. Many definitions in the Sophist and the Statesman indeed become quite intelligible when read in this way. While I hesitate as to whether Plato intended division solely for the purpose of distinguishing the genuine from the spurious, Deleuze's thought-provoking discussion points in a promising direction.

This paper is part of a project funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (project number 107-2410-H-002-251-MY2).

Caption: Diagram of the Final Definition

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Author:Jeng, I-Kai
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2019
Previous Article:RATIO: Vol. 32, No. 1, March 2019.

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