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The IEP writes in the article about Gorgias:

In recent years, however, modernists and post-structuralists have found great value in the philosophy of Gorgias, especially his theories on truth and language.

It would be interesting who those commentators are...

But more importantly, where can one learn about his theory on truth and language?

Is it in some of his four extant works:

  • On the Nonexistent or On Nature
  • Apology of Palamedes
  • Encomium on Helen
  • the Epitaphios or Athenian Funeral Oration,

or do we know about his philosophy more through the reactions and commenaries by his contemporaries? Where should one start?

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  • 1
    It's sad that most of works of the much-maligned sophists are lost. All we have are secondary accounts of their ideas where they're there only to exemplify what not to do in philosophy. They were rich these guys ... 🤔 Jun 16, 2023 at 9:27
  • 2
    @AgentSmith My mother used to mention often how much must have been lost when the Library of Alexandria was destroyed.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jun 16, 2023 at 11:37
  • 1
    @ScottRowe Probably a work dedicated to the antikythera mechanism. Had that survived... who knows.
    – J D
    Jun 16, 2023 at 12:20

1 Answer 1

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You'll need to work at this and the resources of a really good library (University standard).

You could start by reading Plato's dialogue Gorgias.

I suggest you following up the information available from the IEP entry. The most recent entry there is McComiskey, Bruce. Gorgias and the New Sophistic Rhetoric. Carbondale: Southern Illinois, 2002 and I would start by looking at that.

Another citation in the same entry is Gorgias. Encomium of Helen. Trans. Douglas MacDowell. Glasgow: Bristol Classics, 1982. I don't find any suggestion that this work exists as an independent text in Perseus Digital Library, so I'm not at all sure what that's about. However, Wikipedia entry on Gorgias has Gorgias. "Encomium of Helen" The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Eds. Vincent B. Leitch, et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 30–33.

There's another source that's likely to be useful cited in the IEP entry on Sophists - Gibert, J. 2003. 'The Sophists' In C. Shields (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Ancient Philosophy, 27-50. Oxford, Blackwell.

The Wikipedia entry (unlike the IEP entry) does explain why post-modernists might have found Gorgias attractive:-

Gorgias's rhetoric is frequently elusive and confusing; he makes many of his most important points using elaborate, but highly ambiguous, metaphors, similes, and puns. Many of Gorgias's propositions are also thought to be sarcastic, playful, or satirical. In his treatise On Rhetoric, Aristotle characterizes Gorgias's style of oratory as "pervasively ironic" and states that Gorgias recommended responding to seriousness with jests and to jests with seriousness. Gorgias frequently blurs the lines between serious philosophical discourse and satire, which makes it extremely difficult for scholars to tell when he is being serious and when he is merely joking. Gorgias frequently contradicts his own statements and adopts inconsistent perspectives on different issues.

I don't find in these entries anything that I'm sure would give a post-modern view of Gorgias. There's an listing in IEP for Jarratt, S. 1991. Rereading the Sophists. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press. The title (and the date) suggests that this might be a post-modern reading.

The SEP entry The Sophists has a slightly different take, but confirms my feeling that you should not expect to find any great philosophical illumination here:

His extant writings include display speeches, purportedly in defence of Helen and Palamedes against charges of treachery (DK 82B11 and 11a); they seem to be intended partly as examples of stylistic brilliance for its own sake and partly as demonstration of skill in adversarial argument, ‘making the weaker argument the stronger’. In addition, we have a philosophical essay ‘On Non-Being or On Nature’ (DK 82B3), purporting to be a rebuttal of Parmenides, in which he maintains that nothing exists, that if anything did exist it could not be known and that if anything could be known it could not be communicated. Scholarly opinion has been and remains divided as to whether this was intended as a parody of Eleatic writing or as a serious piece of philosophy. What can definitely be said is that it shows some knowledge of Parmenides, that it at least raises serious philosophical questions, such as the relation of thought to reality and the possibility of referring to things which do not exist, that no question which it raises is developed to any significant extent and that most of its arguments are extremely feeble. It reads like a piece written by a clever man with no real interest in philosophy, but it is doubtful whether we shall ever know why he wrote it.

"DK" is abbreviation for:- Diels, H. and Kranz, W. (eds), 1974, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, Berlin, Weidmann, (volume 2), 252–416.

English translations (including additional material): R.K. Sprague (ed.), 2001 The Older Sophists, 2nd edn., Indianapolis: Hackett; D.W. Graham (ed.), 2010, The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy, vol. 2, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

You could also tap publishers listings for more recent work.

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  • Then again, maybe a lot of what was in the Library of Alexandria probably wasn't all that worthwhile.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jun 16, 2023 at 11:38
  • Thanks. I learned something along the way, as well. Everybody wins!
    – Ludwig V
    Jun 16, 2023 at 14:41
  • Most libraries have a lot of books that aren't worth while. It's the top 10% or so that matter. I would bet that if we hadn't lost Alexandria, there would still be complaints about what we had lost.
    – Ludwig V
    Jun 16, 2023 at 14:44

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