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The Benefits of Bullies: Sophists as Unknowing Teachers of Moderation in Plato’s Euthydemus

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

Though Plato’s Euthydemus is usually interpreted as an unambiguous attempt to discredit the sophists’ teaching methods, I argue that the dialogue defends the role sophists play in philosophic education. Read in its dramatic context, the dialogue reveals that sophists offer a low-stakes environment for the testing and development of an important political virtue: moderation. The sophist’s classroom facilitates the cultivation of moderation by simulating the agonistic conditions of the assembly or courtroom, where many encounter temptations to bully others verbally. By arousing one’s inner bully, the sophists expose the limits of one’s moderation. While not sufficient for developing moderation, such self-revelations constitute a necessary part of the process even for a philosopher like Socrates. Ironically, by bringing out the worst in their students, the sophists unknowingly supply a protreptic to philosophy.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science, Florida Atlantic University777 Glades Road, Social Science 384C, Boca Raton, fl


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