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The case against teaching virtue for pay: Socrates and the Sophists

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The practice of teaching virtue (arete) for pay was typical of the Greek sophists but consistently eschewed by their contemporary Socrates. Plato and Xenophon offer various explanations for Socrates' refusal to take pay, explanations intended not only to reflect favourably upon their teacher but also to reflect negatively upon the sophists. Indeed, Plato and Xenophon have been so persuasive in this regard that the mere fact of accepting pay has become a common source of invective against the sophists. This paper examines and evaluates these passages of Plato and Xenophon in light of the historical information we have concerning sophistic and Socratic pedagogy in general and it reaches two major conclusions: first, that most of the reasons ascribed to Socrates for refusing to accept pay are sufficiently problematic to raise serious doubts about their authenticity and, second, that none of these reasons functions successfully as a general critique of the sophists.

Keywords: Arete; Plato; Socrates; Sophists; Xenophon; fees; payment; virtue

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA. Email:

Publication date: February 1, 2002


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