Goodman, Valerie A.H. (1964)
The influence of the Sophists on fifth century thought with particular reference to Herodotus and Thucydides.
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Up to the Fifth Century the consequences of an action in the form of censure or disaster proved it wrong. The main aim of any activity was to avoid such consequences, resulting in a high degree of conformity to traditional practices and of superstitious fears, which was attacked in the Fifth Century by the Sophists as being a barrier to progress. Rules are not an end in themselves, but serve a purpose sometimes better attained by breaking them, and it is the ability to achieve that purpose by the use of intelligence which promotes success. This was not an attack upon the purpose behind the rules, but a licence to violate the letter of the rule to fulfill its spirit. But this opened the way to a complete repudiation of law and social commitment in the interests of self, which resulted in a counter-attack on intelligence as being subversive. It is however not intelligence itself which is at fault, but the integrity of the individual, and by questioning the sufficiency of traditional practices as guides to action the Sophists laid responsibility for doing what was right upon the individual, which required a developed social conscience. Because with few exceptions self-promotion was encouraged by traditional values, and traditional practices were followed through fear of sanctions, there was, except in Socrates' case, no sense of social commitment. In theory therefore the attack of the Sophists on tradition was subversive, because it abolished the only factor which regulated conduct, but in practice, because traditional values were not easily set aside and the fear of censure and disaster ensured obedience to traditional practices, it had little detrimental effect on standards of behaviour, and this was far outweighed by the more liberal attitude to and deeper insight into human affairs which it fostered.
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Institution: University of London, Bedford College (United Kingdom).