Consigny – “Edward Schiappa’s Reading of the Sophists”

Consigny argues against Schiappa’s representation of the neosophistics by : 1) first discussing the epistemological assumptions, hermeneutic strategies, and resulting interpretations of the neosophistics (antifoundationalists); 2) analyzing Schiappa’s critique of the neosophists by concentrating on his own foundational reading; and 3) critiquing Schiappa’s approach by highlighting how S.s “objective” reading actually is a partisan interpretation that portrays that sophists as his own foundational precursors (253).

The first section (epistemologies, hermeneutics, interpretations) is a really well-wrought, succinct articulation of the neosophistic stance toward knowledge, reality, and language.  Considering S.s critique, C. highlights how S. 1) argues for reading the Sophists in their own words; 2) brackets contemporary philosophical concepts in the interest of reading those words in their own context; 3) suggests that finding the meanings of Sophistic writings can be found by locating the sophists in history itself (despite the fact that this history itself relies on a progress myth from orality to literacy [mythos to logos]).   This has the effect of positing the sophists as transitional figures in the budding 5th century Greek Enlightenment that moved the civilization away from the mythopoetic irrational to the rational and scientific, logical society (260).

C. refutes S.s position by demonstrating that the basis that S. uses doesn’t exist apart from contemporary scholarship (the agreement on the sophists own words is itself a scholarly rhetorical consensus. . . the original words don’t exist); further, if the basis did exist he couldn’t interpret it without using his own partisan perspective; and finally, even if he could apprehend the sophists meanings he couldn’t articulate them without relying on a partisan, rhetorical vocabulary (the issue of translation is one of many, many here). . . in other words, C. uses Gorgias’ On the Non-Existent as an organizing principle to deconstruct S.s position.


1.       When discussing the politics of translation and “partisan vocabularies,” Consigny notes that, “we should recognize that our task as interpreters is to use or invent whatever anachronisms enable us to make sense of the sophists” (264).  This line of reasoning runs throughout Consigny’s charges against Schiappa.  In a word, this is all a hermeneutical problem (methodologically, translationally, analytically).  So, do we see Consigny offer a rebuttal to Schiappa’s contention that some interpretations are more valuable than others or is Consigny’s position merely to advocate antifoundational principles toward political ends (without considering the consensus of particular interpretive communities)?


1.       If we characterize “rationality” as the ability to use whatever means are available in a given situation to attain an objective, and not as the application of universally valid rules, then the distinction between the “mythical” bricoleur and the “rational” thinker dissolves. (265)

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