Opened first school of rhetoric in Athens.  One of Ten
Attic Orators.  Talent in speech writing for
publication, not delivery.   Style is antithetical and
symmetrical but not aural .
Developed periodic sentence.  Saw purpose of rhetoric
to address immediate practical problems rather than
search for absolute truth.  Rhetoric is tool of
investigation for probable knowledge and for moving
people to action for common good.  Practical knowledge
here.  Saw purpose of education to train citizens to
serve the state.

Because Isocrates stayed in one place, unlike other
Sophists, he mentored many older men for service of
state.  His education, targeted toward elite men,
codified grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic.  Believed
system of composing was pointless since all speeches
were context-dependent.

Operating at different time than other Sophists.
Athens isn’t as dominant; Peloponesian wars has given
states more power and thus Athens needs to see itself
as part of larger community. Interested in unifying

Antidosis represents his educational and rhetorical

Antidosis:  begins with fictional charge of corrupting
youth with rhetorical powers to be used for personal
gain.  Says never hurt anyone; mistake was never to do
enough to gain public good through fair speech.  Says
he teaches improvement and dicipline of mind, not
morality.  “Misuse of oratorical ability is fault of
orator, not the oratory.” Asserts true wisdom is
ability to see and present best course of action for
common good.

Isocrates is considered minor philosopher because he
didn’t try to discover absolute truth or transcendent
knowledge.  Instead he is concerned with practical
knowledge developed and applied socially.  Rather than
being an isolationist, Isocrates is servant of
citizens so that citizens can become servants of

Against the Sophists

Talks about rhetoric for practical means as true
discipline of the soul. 

Starts out by condemning Sophists for taking money to
teach political discourse for purpose of attaining
virtue and happiness.  Separates himself from these
Sophists, who are hypocrites.  But claims other people
want to lump all rhetoricians together as unvirtuous.
Claims mistake of Sophists is teaching system of
argument without paying attention to context.
Distinguishes two arts:  one dictated by rules, other
by context. 

Argues formal training makes men more skillful and
resourceful in discovering possibilities of a subject.
 Good rhetoricians must have natural talent.
Otherwise, all education can do is improve self and
create more knowledge on a particular topic.

To learn about a topic is easy, but to create and
deliver a speech about a topic in an eloquent manner,
now that requires true imagination and vigour.

Charm in delivery is key.

The study of true rhetoric develops honesty of
character even more than facility in oratory.  Careful
to claim that is certainly not always the case though.

From Antidosis  [written later in life. Fictional
court case fashioned after real life court case where
he had to pay fines for something]

Rhetoric helps develop institutions of man.  Also
develops sound understanding and orients one toward
attaining wisdom, which inherently leads to just

Attempts to establish ethos by saying he will not
attack those who have condemned him nor tarnish
reputation of those who misuse rhetoric.

Says one benefit of rhetoric is that it sharpens the
mind and makes learning of other subjects easier.
Rhetoric is a gymnastic of the mind and a preparation
of philosophy. (76)

Believes all men should work toward common good and be
of service to state and/or other citizens. 

Claims a wise man is one who is able to derive by
powers of conjecture at the best course and
philosopher is one who studies subjects which provides
that insight.  One subject of study is
rhetoric/speech. (77)


Anyone who gives speech deemed honorable and
praiseworthy supports causes which are just and
devoted to welfare of man and common good.  [Hitler?]

Studying virtuous actions inspires one to be more
virtuous.  Hence, studying virtuous action, which is
studying how to speak and think well, leads to an art
of discourse with love of wisdom and love of honor.
{here is moral ideals coming out that plague our
field]  (77)

Also, since persuasion is dependent on ethos, a good
rhetoric knows he/she needs to be honorable to be
credible and will thus attempt to act honorable in all

Tries to address charge that rhetoric’s purpose is
driven by personal desire to be gain advantage (money,
power).  Says those who only work for money and power
are never in advantage because with that effort comes
no peace of mind, which is true advantage. (78)

Ends by saying you can’t lump all rhetoricians into
one lot.  There are some who use rhetoric for ill
means, but not all.

Says we must honor those men who choose to be educated
for they are choosing to improve self rather than gain
material goods; they are choosing to improve their own
minds than seek rule over others; they are trying to
master their own thoughts rather than letting self be
distracted by material life. Basically he is choosing
life of the mind.  Shouldn’t they be praised????

Claims we praise those who have natural talent at
rhetoric, but condemn those who make an effort through
education to attain it.  Class control!!!!!  (79) 

What is ironic about this speech is that here
discipline is being defended just as rhetors are
constantly defending their dicipline today.  What  is
it that makes our discipline so offensive to others? 

Isocrates’ line of thinking is much easier to follow
because he takes longer to make his points rather than
rely on short questions and claims.  He appeals to
audience’s rationale and sense of morality.  He
creates ethos by admitting exceptions to his
arguments.  He uses pathos to elicit guilt and
compassion.  Very smart!  Seems to speak from the
heart on matters that matter.  His speech exemplifies
the education he heralds.  He emulates the kind of
rhetorician he hopes his pupils will become.

We get perspective of Sophistry through eyes of

Truth has to be practical, thus rhetoric is part of
moral development.  Plato thinks rhetoric detours one
from moral development.  Isocrates think moral
character and virtue is arrived at through practice of
speaking, which is derived from thinking well.  Plato
thinks practice of speaking well doesn’t lead to moral
development.  Isocrates thinks Truth should not be
arrived at in a vacuum as Plato thinks. 

Is art true art or technique?  Plato and Isocrates
think poorly of those who teach rhetoric as technique.
 Thus, he links language and knowledge in similar ways
to Plato.



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2 responses to “Isocrates

  1. Pingback: Choose Your Own Sophist « Mentoring, the Sequel

  2. Pingback: Sophia and the Purpose of Teaching « Mentoring 2: Electric Boogaloo

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