Isokrates and the Sokratics.
The relation of Isokrates to the Sokratics is in fact rather a biographical question than one which concerns the examination of his art. His so-called ‘philosophy’ had no point of true contact with the Sokratic schools except his personal obligation to Sokrates. But, in so far as there was a real or an apparent antagonism between them, some attempt to estimate this may help to make the exact position of Isokrates clearer.
Sokrates held that it is of the essence of true philosophy to have a direct bearing on civic life.
His relation to Sokrates.
When Isokrates turns away from physical speculation and from all abstract study, considered as an end, he is so far Sokratic1
. But his master is the Xenophontic, not the Platonic Sokrates. He has taken the doctrine in too literal and too narrow a sense; he has not seen that the theoretic is the way to the best practical life. On the other hand he is versed in the maxims of just such a homely moral
philosophy as Xenophon ascribes to Sokrates. Many parallelisms might be pointed out between the Memorabilia
and (for instance) the Letter to Demonikos2
. Though the ideal tendency of Isokrates distinguishes him from Xenophon almost as decidedly as his unscientific habit distinguishes him from Plato, yet, in all that they owe to their common teacher, Xenophon and Isokrates are strongly alike.
At whatever time the Phaedros
Supposed references of Plato to Isokrates.
whether when Isokrates was really a young man, or, as Cicero thinks (Or. § 41
), when he was of maturer age, there can hardly be a question that it is no sarcastic prophecy after the event3
. When Plato wrote, he really hoped that Isokrates might choose what was in his opinion the noblest career. In the Gorgias
there is a parody which need not be treated as passing the bounds of a friendly irony; Isokrates had said in his speech Against the Sophists
that to be a good speaker requires ‘a manly and imaginative spirit;’ Sokrates is made to say in the Gorgias
that rhetoric is the affair of ‘a manful and conjectural spirit4
.’ A passage in the Euthydemos
is stronger and more significant. Kriton reports to Sokrates the remarks made upon Sokrates and the philosophers by a critic who is not named, but who is described. The chief traits of this critic are, (1) that he
identifies Dialectic with Eristic; (2) that he has a rhythmical and antithetical style, of which Kriton gives a specimen; (3) that he lives a life withdrawn from action; and (4) that he dwells ‘on the borderland between Philosophy and Statesmanship.’ Sokrates is not harsh to this critic; we ought not to be irritated, he says, by claims of this kind; rather ‘we ought to esteem every man who says anything holding of practical wisdom, and goes with manly perseverance through his work5
In the discourse Against the Sophists
Supposed references of Isokrates to Plato.
doubtful whether there is any special reference to Plato, who at that time,—about 391 B.C.,—was perhaps not yet conspicuous; but the teachers of absolute knowledge (ἐπιστήμη
) for pay must at any rate be some of the minor Sokratics6
. In the Helenae Encomium
, however (370 B.C.), the allusion to Plato is distinct. He is brought in between Antisthenes and Eukleides,—being indicated as teaching that Valour, Wisdom and Justice form the subjectmatter of one science7
. In the Panathenaikos
(§ 118) there is what seems a controversial reference to Plato's maxim in the Gorgias
and the Republic
, that it is better to be wronged than to wrong. ‘The Laws and Polities written by the Sophists’ which are slightly mentioned in the Philippos
(§ 2) may possibly be meant for Plato's works; though
this seems less certain. Lastly, in several passages
Isokratic preference of Opinion to Knowledge—its relation to the Platonic antithesis.
of Isokrates the attainment of judicious ‘opinion,’ as distinguished from ‘knowledge,’ is declared to be the end of education. It is worth while to inquire how far these remarks strictly apply to the Platonic antithesis. In the discourse Against the Sophists
(§ 16) Isokrates says:—‘When people see that those who merely opine
agree better and succeed oftener than those who profess to know
, they naturally despise them.’ In the Helenae Encomium
§ 5:— ‘It is much better to form probable opinions
about useful things than to have an exact knowledge of useless things.’ The Speech On the Antidosis
§ 271: —‘Since it is impossible for human nature to acquire any science
by which we should know
what to do or say, in the next resort I deem those wise who, as a rule, can hit what is best by their opinions
; and I call those men philosophers who give themselves to studies by which they will soonest acquire practical wisdom.’
In no one of these passages, nor elsewhere, does Isokrates deny a possible science of absolute truth; rather he implicitly recognises it. His contention is that this knowledge, supposing it attained, is worth less than judicious, though inexact, opinion on the affairs of practical life. That ‘knowledge’ or ‘science’ of which he does
deny the possibility is a science of the contingencies which may arise in practical life. These cannot certainly be foreknown; the words or deeds which a future crisis may demand can never be more than matter of guesswork.
The supposed allusions of Plato to Isokrates
prove nothing more than his regret—sometimes
Summary— probable relations between Plato and Isokrates.
expressed with sarcasm—that ability and industry should have been lost to the search for knowledge. The references of Isokrates to Plato show vanity and petulance; but no more than those on the other side do they justify the hypothesis of a serious feud. An inner friendship or harmony was impossible between the two men. But Plato seems to have regarded Isokrates with a sometimes pitying good will; and Isokrates, when not temporarily out of humour with Plato, was probably willing to visit him in the country, and to talk—as an impartial Peripatetic is said to have described—‘concerning poets8