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1 - Isocrates' philosophia and contemporary pragmatism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2009

Steven Mailloux
Affiliation:
University of California, Irvine
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Summary

The study of the ancient Greek sophists, rhetorical theory, and American pragmatism has enjoyed a renaissance in the twentieth century, especially in the past few decades. That all three areas of inquiry have become the “cutting edge” of various disciplines is no mere coincidence. A profound dissatisfaction with both the transcendental metaphysics of Plato and the brute empiricism of Positivism has rekindled interest in alternative perspectives. For reasons that this volume will make apparent, the ideas and interests associated with the sophists, rhetorical theory, and American pragmatism combine and interact in provocative ways. No doubt the charting of the precise points of intersection of these ideas and interests will vary from thinker to thinker, but for me the sentence that encapsulates all three contemporary “turns” is the following by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I can know that truth is divine and helpful; but how it shall help me I can have no guess, for so to be is the sole inlet of so to know.”

The earliest articulation of the sentiment reflected in Emerson's comment can be found in the works of Isocrates. My objective in this essay is to provide a reading of Isocrates that attempts to locate him as one of the first philosophers in Western history to address the central concerns that we now identify with pragmatism. The essay is divided into four parts: in the first, I argue that Isocrates ought to be viewed as a part of the history of philosophy as much as he has been viewed a part of the history of rhetoric.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1995

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