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To ‘Graze Freely in the Pastures of Philosophy’: The Pedagogical Methods and Political Motives of Socrates and the Sophists

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

This paper offers an innovative interpretation of Socrates’ disavowal of being a teacher as well as a new way of understanding Plato’s depiction of sophistry. The author identifies two different types of sophists, forthrightly frivolous sophists and slyly flattering sophists, in order to compare the pedagogical methods and political motives of each of these two types of sophists with those of Plato’s Socrates. In the course of this comparison it is made clear that Socrates endeavours to be not a teacher but a ‘cowherder’, to use Plato’s agricultural hunger imagery. He rejects the conventional pedagogy that endeavours to ‘feed’ information to students. Instead he fosters learning by putting students in a position to think ideas through for themselves, just as a cowherder puts the herd out to graze in the pasture. This pedagogy alone has the potential to produce citizens who assume responsibility for their own education.


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