Literature & Aesthetics 6:27-39 (1996)
AbstractPlato's Sophist is complex. Its themes are many and ambiguous. The early grammarians gave it the subtitle1tEp1. 'tau ov'to~ ('on being') and assigned it to Plato's logical investigations. The Neoplatonists prized it for a theory of ontological categories they preferred to Aristotle's. Modern scholars sometimes court paradox and refer to the Sophist as Plato's dialogue on not-being (because the question ofthe possibility of not-being occupies much of the dialogue). Whitehead took the Sophist to be primarily about ouvo.~t~ ('power') and found in it many of the central ideas of process theology.2 Heidegger thought it articulated the 'average concept of being in general'.3 In Cornford's view the Sophist is mainly about truth and falsehood. Ackrill, Frede and most analytic philosophers think it is about predication.4 Stanley Rosen treats it as a metaphysico-aesthetic dialogue: in his view it is about the relation of images to originals.5 As far as the title of the dialogue goes, however, opinion is almost universal. Do not be misled: 'the definition of the sophist' observed Archer-Hind 'is simply a piece of pungent satire'6 and he added that 'we may be sure that (Plato] cared little about defining the sophist, but very much about the metaphysical questions to which the process of definition was to give rise'.7 The most spectacular case of agreement with this judgment can be found in Cornford, who omits to translate the sections on the definition of the sophist because, as he says 'the modern reader ... might be wearied'.8
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