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[268] I would, therefore, advise young men to spend some time on these disciplines,1 but not to allow their minds to be dried up by these barren subtleties, nor to be stranded on the speculations of the ancient sophists, who maintain, some of them, that the sum of things is made up of infinite elements; Empedocles that it is made up of four, with strife and love operating among them; Ion, of not more than three; Alcmaeon, of only two; Parmenides and Melissus, of one; and Gorgias, of none at all.2

1 Compare Callicles' similar view about the study of philosophy in Plat. Gorg. 484c.

2 The fruitlessness of the speculations of the early philosophers (physicists) is shown, according to Isocrates, in the utter diversity of their views, for example, regarding the first principles or primary elements from which the world was created. At one extreme was Anaxagoras, who held that the primary elements were infinate in number; at the other was Gorgias, who in his nihilistic philosophy denied that there was any such thing as being or entity at all. Cf. Isoc. 10.3; Xen. Mem. 1.1.14 ff.; Plat. Soph. 242.

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