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How the Sophists Taught Virtue: Exhortation and Association

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The Greek sophists are perhaps most noteworthy in the history of political thought for their claim to be able to teach virtue (arete) for pay. Socrates, by contrast, claimed not to be able to teach virtue, though his method of elenchus or refutation had a moral-pedagogical dimension that is often said to have rivalled the pedagogical practices of the sophists. The present study examines the sophistic pedagogical methods of exhortation and association, and compares these to the Socratic method of refutation in order to assess their relative effectiveness. The following three conclusions are reached: that Socratic elenchus was probably less effective than either exhortation or association as a method of imparting virtue; that Socrates in fact made use of exhortation and association in addition to elenchus; and, finally, that the sophists' unique approach to exhortation and association in particular would have made their methods extremely effective and worthy of imitation today.
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Keywords: Hippias; Prodicus; Protagoras; Socrates; Sophists; elenchus; moral education; moral exhortation; political virtue

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2005

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