Considering Plato’s Sophist

The Sophist, a favorite of Martin Heidegger, begins without introduction and takes place morning after the end of the Theaetetus. Unlike the Theaetetus, it has no introduction from the Megarians many decades later.

Theodorus, a man who ‘meets his obligations,’ opens the dialogue: “It is in accordance with yesterday’s agreement…” (116 A). He has brought with him an unnamed stranger from Elea, of the school of Parmenides and Zeno. Socrates wonders whether or not he might be a god, as gods and philosophers often disguise themselves as apparitions appearing as a sophist or a statesman. In caring mainly for the city of Athens, Socrates does not ask for the stranger’s name, but proceeds to ask what the stranger understands to be a sophist, statesman, and philosopher. The first two follow in the preceding dialogues, however we do not receive a Platonic dialogue entitled the Philosopher.

The stranger engages with the young Theaetetus in the discussion while Socrates and Theodorus listen.  First, the stranger leads Theaetetus into a lengthy discussion of the many facades of the sophist -an artist, a soothsayer, a money-maker and so on. The discussion ends inconclusively, however, and turns to the question of being and non-being. They spend a great deal of time discussing the nature of being non-being, as non-being becomes, in fact, a question of being if it is discussed holistically, posing a problem for the sophist who is a proclaimer of non-being. The dialogue inconclusively and is the second part of what Seth Bernardete called “The Being of the Beautiful” -a trilogy of the TheaetetusSophist, and Statesman.

For this reading I used Seth Bernardete’s translation of Plato’s Sophist.

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