Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy
Special Issue of Humanities: Ancient Greek Sophistry and Its Legacy
Submission Deadline: March 31, 2022
Guest Editor:Michael J. MacDonald
Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
I am writing to invite you to consider submitting an original, unpublished essay for a Special Issue of Humanitiesdevoted to the topic of ancient Greek sophistry and its legacy.
For all their veneration of logosand persuasive speech, the ancient Greeks also experienced a fear of discourse and its power to produce effects in the soul and the world.This logophobie, as Michel Foucault calls it, was associated above all with the figure of the sophist, thanks in part to the polemical efforts of Aristophanes, Plato, and Aristotle to expel the sophists from the order of reasonable, ethical discourse. In Clouds, for example, Aristophanes purges the sophists in the crucible of his comic satire to conserve traditional Athenian pieties (“Burn down the Thinkery! Smoke out the charlatans! Incinerate the fakes!”), while in GorgiasPlato initiates the war between philosophy and sophistry (“polemon” is its first word) with an attack on sophistic thought that has repercussions even today: the art of sophistics (sophistike) is flattery, deception, cosmetology, captious reasoning, phantom wisdom, empty verbiage, cookery in the soul, and demagoguery. In a sense, Plato and Aristotle create the discipline of philosophy by negating sophistry, conjuring the figure of the sophist as its fictionalized Other or “counter-essence” (Gegenwesen[Martin Heidegger]). “We have found the philosopher,” exclaims Theaetetus, “while we were looking for the sophist” (Plato, Sophist). It is this baleful image of the sophist as the daemonic double of the philosopher—not to mention wolf, magician, hoplite, hydra, quack, buffoon, quibbler, pugilist, word merchant, imposter, pastry cook, know-it-all, scenographer, choplogic, skeptic, nihilist, atheist, tyrant, “disgusting fib-fabulator” (Aristophanes), etc.—that has persisted in European philosophy, literature, and culture from ancient Greece to the present day.
In light of this diatribe against sophistics, one of the most remarkable trends in humanities in recent years has been the resurgence of scholarly interest in the ancient Greek sophists and their Nachlebenin Western culture. While it is too much to say, with Stanley Fish, that modernity is “old sophism writ analytic” (Doing What Comes Naturally), modernity has indeed witnessed a reactivation of sophistic thought that challenges orthodox accounts of the sophistic movement and its significance. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, writing in the wake of the Kantian demolition of metaphysics, was one of the first to recognize the uncanny presence of ancient Greek sophistics in modern continental philosophy: "Sophistry does not lie so far from us as we think" (Lectures on the History of Philosophy). Friedrich Nietzsche, a philologist alert to the untimely aspects of ancient Greek thought, also notes the affinities between modernity and antiquity (“epoch of the sophists—our epoch”) and contends that “every advance in moral and epistemological knowledge has reinstated [restituirt] the sophists”(Nachlass). More recently, new methods of textual and historical interpretation—from feminism and semiotics to psychoanalysis and New Historicism—have invigorated the study of the sophists by advancing novel readings of sophistic texts and the history of their reception. At the same time, new approaches to rhetorical theory have expanded the field of sophistic practice to embrace everything from the sophistic logic operating in dreams and unconscious desire (Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan) to the sophistic components of malevolent artificial intelligence systems and mendacity machines (Micah Clark, Frederico Pistono).
Given this resurgence of interest in sophistics in modern and contemporary thought, this Special Issue of Humanitiesseeks to reassess the phenomenon of ancient Greek sophistry and its legacy, both as a historical reality (sophistic doctrine and practice) and as a literary and philosophical fiction (the sophist as personnage conceptuel [Gilles Deleuze]). To capture the complex, protean nature of sophists, sophistry, and sophistics, I welcome essays of 7000–10,000 words that advance new arguments about any aspect of ancient Greek sophistics and its afterlife in any discipline, historical period, or field of social practice. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- readings of the ancient Greek sophists (Protagoras, Gorgias, Antiphon, Prodicus, etc.)
- sophistics and the history of philosophy, from the “Presocratics” to the present
- sophistics and drama (comedy, tragedy, history, etc.)
- sophistics and literature (epic, novel, romance, satire, etc.)
- sophistics and law, politics, and historiography
- readings of the Greco-Latin sophists (Aelius Aristides, Philostratus, etc.)
- imperial sophistics and the Second Sophistic
- sophistics and declamation
- sophistics and art, aesthetics, and art history
- the legacy of the sophists in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
- sophistics and Neoplatonism (Marsilio Ficino, Pico Della Mirandola, etc.)
- sophistics and magic, sorcery, and witchcraft
- comparative or cross-cultural sophistics
- sophistics and psychoanalysis
- sophistics and deconstruction
- sophistics, gender, and feminism
- new modes of sophistical practice
- sophistics and marketing
- digital sophistics (trolling, flaming, doxxing, fake news, etc.)
All suitable essays will undergo double-blind peer review. For submission information, please go to https://www.mdpi.com/journal/humanities/special_issues/AGSL. For all inquiries about Humanitiesand the MDPI publishing model, please refer to the journal’s website (https://www.mdpi.com/journal/humanities) or the MDPI website (https://www.mdpi.com).
Michael J. MacDonald
sophist; sophistry; sophistics; philosophy; literature; drama; law; politics