In order to fully understand the context behind why Socrates despised the Sophists, their individual philosophies must be understood in order for the distinction to be clear. For a brief introduction, the sophists were nomadic professors and intellectuals who frequented cities such as Athens as well as other Greek cities and for a price, the sophists offered Greek men a form of education and therefore gained a considerable amount of wealth and fame while also raising significant hostility towards them on behalf of other philosophers.
As Athens became an increasingly more democratic society the presence of this form of teachings became increasingly more understood in the ability to influence the citizens concerning political gatherings as the new rhetorical persuasion raised numerous questions. Socrates, perhaps one of the most famous philosophers in history and had an extensive impact on modern philosophy, Socrates himself was a rather controversial person and is credited with being the first moral philosopher.
Unlike Socrates, Sophists were not primarily concerned with the truth, more concerned with the concept of persuasion and the fact of opinion and this is where the majority of the conflict had arisen between Socrates and the Sophists.
As the Sophists believed that opinion was equal to the truth, they preached that if someone can be persuaded of something, then it becomes the truth. This is widely contrasted to Socrates’ dialectic as he fully believed in the concept of the truth, and that unlike the Sophists, truth was separate from the concept of opinion and in the absence of persuasion one must use reason know the truth.
This distinction between the two can be attributed to the three modes of persuasion and which form best suits their believed reality of ethics. The first being “Ethos” the appeal to the authority, the second “Pathos” an appeal to the audience’s emotions, and the final as “Logos” the appeal to logic. While the Sophist may try and appeal to one’s emotions in order to persuade their perceived truth as opinion, Socrates might choose to appeal to one’s logic in order to keep the truth as fair and honest as possible. In ancient greece the concept of philosophers and philosophy was far superior to how modern society views them as in early history philosophers served the people, they were the advice-givers and where the citizens of ancient societies sought counsel and insight into the regular happenings in everyday life. This is likely why Socrates was so opposed to the Sophists as they went against everything that philosophers stood for during this period in time. The sophist essentially preyed on unsuspecting individuals and used extreme forms of manipulation and persuasion to get what they want. Essentially, the motives of the Sophists were corrupt and they lacked the morality that the majority of the philosophers claimed to possess despite any refuting evidence to this fact.
Socrates and famously coined the Socratic Method which is a form of an argumentative dialogue between individuals, which centres on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. It involves a discussion in which the defence of one point of view is questioned with the goal to contradict themselves in some way, therefore weakening the point of the other. (Garrett 1998) This method, despite its criticisms it does not use any malpractice or trickery, it simply uses carefully chosen words and one’s own knowledge to prompt critical thinking and uncover hidden ideas. Conclusively, the conflicts between Socrates and the Sophists can be accredited to the extensive differences between their beliefs and philosophies and their methods of execution. The concrete differences between these two groups evidently did not cease the practice as both continued to make a name for themselves in ancient societies and similarily have left their mark in history of philosophy and the progression of philosophers in the modern age.