Being or Non-Being Part 14

The Stranger began this dialogue by trying to define the Sophist and to further come to an understanding of the Sophist’s art and on what he bases his arguments. We have come a long way and the Stranger has left no stone unturned in his attempt to get to the truth of the matter. What has been discovered so far by a process of exhaustive dialectic is to prove once and for all that the Sophist class rarely know what they talk about and rely on bluster and guile to win their arguments.

The difficulty lies in tying the Sophist down as he has proved a slippery customer and I’m sure we have all faced Sophists in one form or another, either internally in our own speech or in conversing with them. They are the types that hold fast onto their opinions believing them to be true. As an example, there has been a huge push over the past couple of decades to confer rights on certain sectors of the society like children. The fact that these civil rights movements had noble beginnings but have now degenerated into nonsensical debates with each side claiming to be right. The upshot now is that children have more rights than their parents who are now powerless to discipline their own children and the children seeing that the law is now on their side take full advantage often with terrible outcomes.

No one takes the time to calmly use this long process of question and answer anymore because people just don’t have the time or the ability. No attempt is made to question how we got to this position and what the underlying causes were. In Plato’s Laws he goes into detail on how the youth should be educated from birth even in the pre-natal stage, that would ensure that children grow up to become useful, happy and just members of society. So now what is obvious is that parents try to be friends with their children and children tell their parents what to do which is clearly an unenviable system.

In order to bring this study to its conclusion, we will pick up from where we left off last week. If you recall Theaetetus was now ready to acknowledge that there are two kinds of production, and each of them twofold; in the lateral division there is both a divine and a human production; in the vertical there are realities and a creation of a kind of similitudes not forgetting that of the imitative class the one part was to have been likeness-making, and the other phantastic, if it could be shown that falsehood is a reality and belongs to the class of real being.

STRANGER: Then, now, let us again divide the phantastic art. There is one kind which is produced by an instrument, and another in which the creator of the appearance is himself the instrument.

THEAETETUS: What do you mean?

STRANGER: When anyone makes himself appear like another in his figure or his voice, imitation is the name for this part of the phantastic art. Let this, then, be named the art of mimicry, and this the province assigned to it; as for the other division, we are weary and will give that up, leaving to someone else the duty of making the class and giving it a suitable name.

THEAETETUS: Let us do as you say—assign a sphere to the one and leave the other.

STRANGER: There is a further distinction, Theaetetus, which is worthy of our consideration, and for a reason which I will tell you. There are some who imitate, knowing what they imitate, and some who do not know. And what line of distinction can there possibly be greater than that which divides ignorance from knowledge?

THEAETETUS: There can be no greater.

STRANGER: Was not the sort of imitation of which we spoke just now the imitation of those who know? For he who would imitate you would surely know you and your figure?  And what would you say of the figure or form of justice or of virtue in general? Are we not well-aware that many, having no knowledge of either, but only a sort of opinion, do their best to show that this opinion is really entertained by them, by expressing it, as far as they can, in word and deed?

THEAETETUS: Yes, that is very common.

STRANGER: And do they always fail in their attempt to be thought just, when they are not? Or is not the very opposite true?

THEAETETUS: The very opposite.

STRANGER: Such a one, then, should be described as an imitator—to be distinguished from the other, as he who is ignorant is distinguished from him who knows?


STRANGER: Can we find a suitable name for each of them? This is clearly not an easy task; for among the ancients there was some confusion of ideas, which prevented them from attempting to divide genera into species; wherefore there is no great abundance of names. Yet, for the sake of distinctness, I will make bold to call the imitation which coexists with opinion, the imitation of appearance—that which coexists with science, a scientific or learned imitation.


STRANGER: The former is our present concern, for the Sophist was classed with imitators indeed, but not among those who have knowledge.

THEAETETUS: Very true.

STRANGER: Let us, then, examine our imitator of appearance, and see whether he is sound, like a piece of iron, or whether there is still some crack in him.

THEAETETUS: Let us examine him.

STRANGER: Indeed there is a very considerable crack; for if you look, you find that one of the two classes of imitators is a simple creature, who thinks that he knows that which he only fancies; the other sort has knocked about among arguments, until he suspects and fears that he is ignorant of that which to the many he pretends to know.

THEAETETUS: There are certainly the two kinds which you describe.

STRANGER: Shall we regard one as the simple imitator—the other as the dissembling or ironical imitator?

THEAETETUS: Very good.

STRANGER: And shall we further speak of this latter class as having one or two divisions?

THEAETETUS: Answer yourself.

STRANGER: Upon consideration, then, there appear to me to be two; there is the dissembler, who harangues a multitude in public in a long speech, and the dissembler, who in private and in short speeches compels the person who is conversing with him to contradict himself.

THEAETETUS: What you say is most true.

STRANGER: And who is the maker of the longer speeches? Is he the statesman or the popular orator?

THEAETETUS: The latter.

STRANGER: And what shall we call the other? Is he the philosopher or the Sophist?

THEAETETUS: The philosopher he cannot be, for upon our view he is ignorant; but since he is an imitator of the wise, he will have a name which is formed by an adaptation of the word sophos. What shall we name him? I am pretty sure that I cannot be mistaken in terming him the true and very Sophist.

STRANGER: Shall we bind up his name as we did before, making a chain from one end of his genealogy to the other?

THEAETETUS: By all means.

STRANGER: He, then, who traces the pedigree of his art as follows—who, belonging to the conscious or dissembling section of the art of causing self-contradiction, is an imitator of appearance, and is separated from the class of phantastic which is a branch of image-making into that further division of creation, the juggling of words, a creation human, and not divine—any one who affirms the real Sophist to be of this blood and lineage will say the very truth.

THEAETETUS: Undoubtedly.

So there concludes the dialogue of the Sophist whose art consists of compelling those he argues with to contradict themselves. Out next in the series Being and Not Being will the last dialogue in this trilogy being the Statesman. In the meantime, you are urged to pay attention to the speech that arises internally, the speech that is uttered and the speech arising from your neighbour’s mouth. Bear in mind that Being always remains unitary and undivided YET partakes in or animates Not-Being. Look for the truth in all speech and remember that this being is defined as that which never changes and which can never be changed and which has no parts.