Newswise — Many couldn't wait for election day to pass because they just don't trust today's politicians, who they believe are all about image and less about substance. But that's nothing new according to a philosophy professor from Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. She reports it's been that way for quite a while " all the way back to fifth-century BC during the times of Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates.
Dr. Coleen Zoller, assistant professor of philosophy, detailed how Plato and Socrates viewed political figures from their time in her research paper "The Political Motives and Pedagogical Methods of Socrates and Two Types of Sophists." Sophists were political figures of that time, and defined as any of a group of professional Greek philosophers and teachers from that period who speculated on theology, metaphysics, and the sciences. They were later characterized by Plato as superficial manipulators of rhetoric and dialectic.
"Plato's belief was that society was so unjust because it was run by professional politicians," said Zoller.
Today's professional politicians accuse each other of saying anything " including stretching the truth or outright lying " to manipulate potential voters. According to Zoller, Plato characterized the political figures of his time as experts in dispute or argument. Socrates took it one step farther.
"Socrates says, 'They (sophists) have now mastered the one form of fighting they had previously left untried; as a result, not a single man can stand up to them, they have become so skilled in fighting in arguments and in refuting whatever may be said, no matter whether it is true or false.' Socrates' basic insight on this topic is that sophists lack concern for the truth; as a result, Plato depicts Socrates in a battle with sophists over truth," wrote Zoller.
She details two types of sophists with both types engaged in rhetorical contests for the sake of subduing an opponent and garnering the fame that comes with a reputation for rhetorical cleverness, but divided by the differing styles with which this fame is pursued.
The Type A sophistic lifestyle is the unrepentant life of verbal contests engaged in merely for the sake of victory. They exhibit no commitment to ideas, except for those that serve to argue against a verbal opponent. By contrast, the Type B sophistic lifestyle is marked by arguing for ideas rather than against them. While the Type B sophists are just as victory-loving as Type A, they attempt to hide their love of victory behind a thin veil of concern for ideas such as citizenship, justice, and virtue. "In their battles (Type B), they aim to convince audiences or opponents of specific conclusions about whatever subject is at hand rather than simply refuting whatever position is taken up by an opponent," said Zoller.
Because they are so similar one can fail to see any distinction between sophists " much like today's voters fail to see any real substantive difference between political candidates " Plato calls upon readers to see the subtle differences between them.
"Although Type B sophists claim to be concerned with justice, virtue, citizenship, and the like, they prove to have no such genuine interest. Ultimately their main interest is self-interest, just as it is for Type A sophists," wrote Zoller. "Thus, Type B sophists can seem rather sneaky in comparison with the forthright attitude of Type A sophists who never make a genuine effort to discuss justice or any idea for that matter. So, one can prefer the Type A candor to the Type B crookedness."
Ultimately, the people of fifth-century BC may have arrived at the same conclusion as many of today's Americans " deciding they're all crooked. At the same time, they still choose to follow them.
"I think then and now, the public is aware of the fact that the (political) speeches are made to manipulate them, but they can't help but be manipulated," said Zoller.
Dick Jones Communications assists Susquehanna with its public affairs work.