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Sophistical Practice: Toward a Consistent Relativism

Sophistical Practice: Toward a Consistent Relativism

Barbara Cassin
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Sophistical Practice: Toward a Consistent Relativism
    Book Description:

    Sophistics is the paradigm of a discourse that does things with words. It is not pure rhetoric, as Plato wants us to believe, but it provides an alternative to the philosophical mainstream. A sophistic history of philosophy questions the orthodox philosophical history of philosophy: that of ontology and truth in itself. In this book, we discover unusual Presocratics, wreaking havoc with the fetish of true and false. Their logoi perform politics and perform reality. Their sophistic practice can shed crucial light on contemporary events, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, where, to quote Desmond Tutu, "words, language, and rhetoric do things," creating things like the new "rainbow people." Transitional justice requires a consistent and sustainable relativism: not Truth, but truth for, and enough of the truth for there to be a community. Philosophy itself is about words before it is about concepts. Language manifests itself in reality only as multiplicity; different languages perform different types of worlds; and difficulties of translation are but symptoms of these differences. This desacralized untranslatability undermines and deconstructs the Heideggerian statement that there is a historical language of philosophy that is Greek by essence (being the only language able to say what "is") and today is German. Sophistical Practice constitutes a major contribution to the debate among philosophical pluralism, unitarism, and pragmatism. It will change how we discuss such words as city, truth, and politics. Philologically and philosophically rethinking the sophistical gesture, relying on performance and translation, it proposes a new paradigm for the human sciences.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5640-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Toward a New Topology of Philosophy
    (pp. 1-22)
    Barbara Cassin and Penelope Deutscher

    Penelope deutscher: In your work, and particularly inL’effet sophistique(The Sophistic Effect)² you have put forward a sophistic history of philosophy. Can you describe this?

    Barbara cassin: The sophistic history of philosophy is a history of neglected and repressed traditions, of alternative paths. It is essential to have a plurality instead of a single path. That single, dominant path of ontology goes from Parmenides to Plato via a certain reading of Aristotle up to Heidegger. I’m interested in showing how it goes even up to Habermas, who might seem to be different but belongs to the ontological tradition; he...

  5. I. Unusual Presocratics

    • ONE Who’s Afraid of the Sophists?: Against Ethical Correctness
      (pp. 25-43)

      The set of doctrines or teachings associated with the individuals known as the sophists is termedsophistikê, in French,sophistique. The expression is lacking in English, which puts one in the position of either using the adjectives “sophistic,” “sophistical,” or of using the dismissive expression “sophistry.” As I argue for a systematic role for these doctrines, I will ask your indulgence and introduce the neologism “sophistics” for now. The question is, why should one be interested in sophistics today?

      As occasional causes are by far the most significant and the most efficient, I would like to explain first of all...

    • TWO Speak If You Are a Man, or the Transcendental Exclusion
      (pp. 44-56)

      How does the ethical enter into language? The answer given from Aristotle’s time up to our own would seem to be: with the requirement of meaning or sense.² Ever since the originary scene set up in theGammabook of Aristotle’sMetaphysicsas a war machine against the ancient Sophists, those plantlike pseudomen who claim to speak for the sake of (the pleasure of) speaking, the same structure—sense, consensus, exclusion—appears to have been repeating itself over and over again; the repetition continues right through the philosophies of consensus, ethics of communication, and pragmatics of conversation developed by Karl-Otto...

    • THREE Seeing Helen in Every Woman: Woman and Word
      (pp. 57-72)

      “Seeing Helen in every woman” is a phrase from Goethe, fromFaust. “With this drink in him / He’ll see a Helen in every woman,” Mephistopheles says to Faust in the witch’s kitchen, making him drink the love potion.¹ Indeed, Marguerite walks by in the street, and Faust, who sees her reflection in a mirror, says to himself, “Helen.” He sees Helen in Marguerite and falls hopelessly in love.

      This phrase spread throughout Germany like wildfire after Goethe. Two occurrences in particular struck me. The first is in Nietzsche in 1872, inThe Birth of Tragedy, which says of Greek...

  6. II. Sophistics, Rhetorics, Politics

    • FOUR Rhetorical Turns in Ancient Greece
      (pp. 75-86)

      “Rhetoricalturnsin Ancient Greece.” Why the plural? What happened in Greece could certainly be read in terms of a “rhetorical turn,” but the point is that there was more than one. Each turn has its own meaning and implications, which I now try to describe.

      When we, as patient scholars, read about the beginnings of rhetoric, we always learn that it begins, like anytekhnê, by a practice improving upon chance. We can trust Roland Barthes’s “The Old Rhetoric: An Aide-Mémoire,” as well as George Kennedy’s basicThe Art of Persuasion in Greeceand even John Poulakos’s more recent...

    • FIVE Topos/Kairos: Two Modes Of Invention
      (pp. 87-101)

      My simple—perhaps even simplistic—thesis is in fact heavy with consequence. On the basis of a close reading of Plato’sGorgias, I hold that ontology invented rhetoric in order to domesticate—to spatialize—time in discourse. Through rhetoric time is modeled as and reduced to space: a discourse is primarily an organism that unfolds (it has a “plan”), and it is articulated (for Plato one has to know how to “divide it up”). From a “narrow” perspective, it is woven out of “tropes” and “metaphors” (here again one can hear space being spoken of). In short, it is a...

    • SIX Time of Deliberation and Space of Power: Athens and Rome, the First Conflict
      (pp. 102-108)

      The conflict between Greece and Rome was, in a manner of speaking, the first international conflict in history. The way in which this conflict took place has often been described as a relationship between military might,imperium romanum, and the power of civilization, Greekpaideia. It is known that, although vanquished, Greece conquered its conqueror: Greek culture, with its poets and philosophers, was “imitated,” or, to be more specific, reinvented and adapted by everyvir bonus dicendi peritus—for instance, Horace, but also Cicero, Lucretius, Virgil, Seneca, or Quintilian, who all contributed to the glory and domination of Rome.


  7. III. Sophistical Trends in Political Philosophy

    • SEVEN From Organism to Picnic: Which Consensus for Which City?
      (pp. 111-135)

      Here I investigate, from the standpoint of ancient Greece, a notion that strikes me as increasingly central to the space of our current political and philosophical imagination, to the point where it may seem constitutive of maturity or modernity in politics: the notion of consensus.

      Consensus is in fact a pivotal concept that allows three different domains to be linked together:

      The logical, in the broader sense (logos), since language is the instrument of consensus par excellence, whether it is obtained by the dialogical route, putting into action what is today known as “communicative reason,” or by the rhetorical route...

    • EIGHT Aristotle with and Against Kant on the Idea of Human Nature
      (pp. 136-163)

      Aristotle: “Reason and thought is the ultimate end of our nature” (ho de logos hêmin kai ho nous tês phuseôs telos);¹ Kant: “rational nature exists as an end in itself.”² Nature, end, reason, rational nature—it seems that Aristotle and Kant are making use of the same ingredients and, what is more, the same kind of argumentative move, whereby what is given is also what we must strive to attain. I would like, with the assistance of Kant and in the light of certain of the uses to which Aristotle is put today, to return to this idea of “human...

    • NINE Greeks and Romans: Paradigms of the Past in Arendt and Heidegger
      (pp. 164-188)

      If we are to compare Arendt with Heidegger—or indeed with any philosopher—it is best, I think, to take as our clue or guideline a fact which she herself continually stresses. “I am not a philosopher,” she insists, not even “a professor of political philosophy” but rather “a professor of political theory” or of “political thought.” Or again, using the terminology of Kant (who represents in her eyes the grand exception to the normal relationship between philosophy and politics), she writes: “I am not a thinker by profession.” Thus in a television interview made in 1964, Günter Gaus introduced...

  8. IV. Performance and Performative

    • TEN How to Really Do Things with Words: Performance Before the Performative
      (pp. 191-220)

      I would like to begin by tracing a horizon of problems and an angle from which to attack them.

      My starting point is the too famous phrase by which Gorgias characterizeslogosin theEncomium of Helen: “Logos dunastês megas estin, hos smikrotatôi somatôi kai aphanestatôi theiôtata erga apotelei,” which I propose to translate as follows: “Discourse is a great master, which with the smallest and least perceptible of bodies performs the most divine of acts.”³

      Three terms are to be underlined, which refer, if not to the speech act, at least to language as act. The difference between the...

    • ELEVEN The Performative Without Condition: A University sans appel
      (pp. 221-233)

      “Take your time but be quick about it, because you don’t know what awaits you,” said Jacques Derrida in 1998 at Stanford.¹ Indeed. He himself would not have expected to be cited like this by Valérie Pécresse, French minister for higher education and research, in January 2009:

      We are taking all measures to ensure that a new ethic founds the autonomy gained by the university community in the conduct of its own destiny. … “To profess is to pledge oneself,” writes Jacques Derrida inThe University Without Condition. The hour has come to fully recognize this engagement, which is at...

    • TWELVE Genres and Genders. Woman/Philosopher: Identity as Strategy
      (pp. 234-245)

      The mission of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, is “to construct peace in the minds of men,” and it defines “peace” as “the determination to act in a way that is based on respect for difference and for dialogue.” This is the heart of the matter: respect for difference. In creating a network of women-philosophers, are we respecting difference? And if the answer is “yes,” what difference are we trying to respect? We are probably not trying to respect the man/woman difference—or if we are, not as such and not as it is usually understood,...

    • THIRTEEN Philosophizing in Tongues
      (pp. 246-258)

      As a preamble to this chapter and to pay homage to Jacques Derrida, I would like to quote a long extract taken from Derrida’s last interviews with Jean Birnbaum,Learning to Live Finally, a pragmatic oxymoron in that the work is from the outset presented as a posthumous real-life experience:

      [J]ust as I love life, and my life, I love what made me what I am, the very element of which is language, this French language that is the only language I was ever taught to cultivate, the only one also for which I can say I am more or...

  9. V. “Enough of the Truth For…”

    • FOURTEEN “Enough of the Truth For…”: On the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
      (pp. 261-273)

      To open this chapter I would like to use two phrases concerning the truth, mirroring each other at the ends of the chain of time. The first, close to us, is from Gilles Deleuze: “the notions of importance, of necessity, of interest, are a thousand times more determining than the notion of truth. Not as substitutes for truth but because they mea sure the truth of what I am saying.”¹ The second, which is more distant, is a phrase from Protagoras, who speaks through Socrates in Plato’sTheaetetus. Socrates is remorseful and wishes to explain, but in the most Protagorean...

    • FIFTEEN Politics of Memory: On the Treatment of Hate
      (pp. 274-290)

      In hisLife of Solon(21) Plutarch notes: “And it is political to remove from hate its eternity.” The treatment of hate, which goes with civil war, is one of the most acute current problems in deliberative politics. Why is it that deliberating and shedding light on events and past actions may lead a political community, in its very attempt to achieve a reconstruction, to implode?

      The management of the relation between past and future, which is decisive for a political present, has historically followed some very different models. I would like to compare three radically heterogeneous models: two procedures...

    • SIXTEEN Google and Cultural Democracy
      (pp. 291-296)

      Google, like the United States, thinks of itself and poses as a champion of democracy. Everyone will know, or try to know, how to view the United States in this regard. As for Google, one has to recognize the genius, perfectly honed for the Web, which consists in making a maximum of information available to a maximum number of people, and the genius, perfectly honed for the spirit of capitalism, which consists in making money, piles of money, from this “mission.”

      The democratic pretention of Google has two dimensions, according to Google itself: democracy upstream and democracy downstream.

      Upstream, each...

    • SEVENTEEN The Relativity of Translation and Relativism
      (pp. 297-316)

      My starting point is going to be the core concern of my profession: a Greek sentence by the one whom Plato called “father Parmenides,” a sentence that is so important that it can serve as anexemplum. I would like to show that this sentence is the product of a series of interpretive operations whose ultimate achievement or crowning is, and is nothing but, translation. The most appropriate name for this series of operations isfixion, spelled with the Lacanianxin order to emphasize, through Bentham and Nietz sche, that the fact is a fabrication, thefactumis a...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 317-364)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 365-374)