It is a very fascinating dialogue, not least because it also stresses the importance that one "take courage" in thinking (242). This advice, here given by The Stranger, is often given in Plato's other dialogues by Socrates. In this particular context, courage means reconsidering what I will describe as dogma. I would like to point out that any school of thought has its dogma: the difference among such schools being which of them is willing to reevaluate their own beginnings, as is stated in Cratylus (436): "Everyone must therefore give great care and great attention to the beginning of any undertaking to see whether his foundation is right or not."
Also, the school of thought represented by Plato is respectful of all great thinker-predecessors, regardless of whether their thoughts are conceded to: in Sophist (243) The Stranger says it is harsh and improper to impute famous men of old to falsehood. In this way, a new conclusion is reached that is somewhat of a compromise: not-being is admitted, except it is modified as not the opposite to being but just different from it (257); the attempt to separate everything from everything else is taken to show the thinker is uncultivated (259). As stated in The Statesman, measurement is not only to be made through the relativity between greater and less but also in terms of the mean (284): in other words, and to sum up this paragraph, classification is all-inclusive while having standards. And we are taught today that that is a contradiction! Cross-questioning is presented as "the greatest purification" (230): ideas are to be questionned.
Speaking of today, we may know of the "tremendous battle" between materialists and those who believe in the existence of ideas in the mind: between those who break truth into moving fragments calling them not existence, "violently dragging down everything into matter," and those who believe in ideas (quotes from Sophist, 246). We see this conflict openly in the 19th century: this same battle is cited in J.C. Maxwell's poem entitled, "British Association, 1874" from which I will quote just these lines:
From nothing comes nothing, they told us, nought happens by chance, but by fate; There is nothing but atoms and void, all else is mere whims out of date! Then why should a man curry favour with beings who cannot exist, To compass some petty promotion in nebulous kingdoms of mist? But not by the rays of the sun, nor the glittering shafts of the day, Must the fear of the gods be dispelled, but by words, and their wonderful play.
Through word play, we are told in The Sophist, the sophist hides "himself in a place we cannot explore" (239). He is depicted as an imitator akin to a juggler and other such entertainers. "Look sharp, then, it is now our business not to let the beast get away again, for we have almost got him into a kind of encircling net of the devices we employ in arguments about such subjects, so that he will not now escape to the next thing" (235). "If the sophist tries to take cover in any of the various sections of imitative art, we must follow him always" (235). At 240 we learn that the sophist feigns ignorance and only questions what is deduced by words. Thence, the sophist - in word play taking on new lines of thought - becomes "many headed". They are beasts because what if they imitate the figure of justice and virtue and have no knowledge of it but just a sort of opinion (267). This talk may remind one of the minotaur in the labyrinth.
It is a battle, one is to have courage and to be willing to even question what one holds in veneration (I choose this word knowing that some dislike it, but considering that it exists even where it is claimed not to).
The sophist "runs away into the darkness of non-being, feeling his way in it by practice" i.e. through empiricism, "and it is hard to discern because of the nature of the dark place", as opposed to the philosopher who is devoted, through reason (not empiricism) "to the idea of being difficult to see because of the brilliant light of the place: the eyes of the soul of the multitude are not strong enough to endure the sight of the divine" (254).
I would like to illustrate this idea through the example of a "real" friend as opposed to the fair weather version. Some people are very adept at disappearing when trouble is at hand. The real friend will retain the image of the friend in trouble and remind the friend of their potential until they have mastered their circumstances. Or, to put it another way, the real friend who is friend to themselves does not believe in the terrible appearance of a "bad" circumstance and speak poorly of it and magnify it until it becomes more terrible like in a soap opera ("for tales and falsehoods are most at home there, in the tragic life" i.e. in the life portrayed in tragedy, Cratylus 408), rather, this friend retains the image of goodness and does not:
complainingly point them out and inveigh against them, in order that their own neglect of them may not be denounced by their neighbors, who might otherwise reproach them for being so neglectful; and hence they multiply [346b] their complaints and add voluntary to unavoidable feuds. But good men ... conceal the trouble and constrain themselves to praise, and if they have any reason to be angered against their parents or country for some wrong done to them they pacify and conciliate their feelings, compelling themselves to love and praise their own people. Protagoras (346)The eyes of the soul must be strong to perceive this. It takes courage and I do not know that I have always seen what I was looking for.
Magazine: Marie Claire Maison. Brush: lace by webgoddess at DeviantART.