Arguing Isocrates

A short paper for my college course ‘Intro to Rhetoric’, in response to Isocrates: Against the Sophists.

There are many points in which I disagree with Isocrates. Though, in general, I believe his thought process is honest and he aims for true reason, he misses on some aspects of perspective which he himself should not have missed. For instance, he claims that experience and natural born talent are the critical factor in achievement – however important those things are – I am certain that all the worldly experience is useless without thorough contemplation and understanding of.

In his speech, “Against the Sophists” he states the hypocrisy of men accepting wealth for a service when they themselves speak contemptuously about it. An argument against this is simple: any information worth having is worth paying for. A proof of dedication and yearning requires sacrifice, and a small payment does just that. If these ‘teachers’ were solely after wealth – then why did they charge so little? Shouldn’t they have charged more? A great book to read regarding this subject of ‘money’ is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Furthermore, he states absurdity in requiring payments in escrow because truly virtuous students would not hesitate to pay a debt they owed. However, virtue (like most things) is completely subjective and cannot be accurately defined. I know of people that can find their virtue in committing evil deeds – as they create a contrasting essence of balance and allow purity and love to shine vividly brighter. What is white without black, and what is pain without a feeling of relief and pleasure?

Isocrates states that there is ‘no science which will insure our happiness and success’, and for the most part he is correct – but only because the path towards enlightenment is different for all. In general, dedicated meditation and self-seeking will result in truth and happiness, but the proper questions and sequences of unveiling are different for everyone. For the most part, it becomes LIFE itself that is the science to happiness and success, and because of that he is correct in stating that experience is essential. However, he does neglect to mention the capability of human understanding and spiritual conquest and its power in unveiling to us the experiences and knowledge that we require. Everything can be accomplished through contemplation.


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