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Saying Good-Bye to Truth? The Role of eikos in the Debate Against Sophistry

Num°04 SOPHISTS

This paper deals with the concept of eikos, traditionally translated as “probability” or “likelihood.” The aim is to show the complexity and the theoretical value of this notion and, more specifically, the crucial role it plays in the Platonic attack against the Sophists. The starting point is a famous passage from Phaedrus (272d-273a) where Socrates says that the speaker who follows eikos must “say goodbye to the truth.” However, this negative attitude towards eikos is not the only possible one. Indeed, in previous literature, and especially in historiography and rhetoric, eikos is not opposed to truth. Instead, despite its fallibility, it is a heuristic device that is extremely useful in conditions of uncertainty. Plato himself shows a less negative attitude when, in Timaeus (29c-d), he says that Timaeus’ discourse is a logos eikos. This different attitude is not a contradiction, but instead is indicative of the complexity of eikos.

Saying Good-Bye to Truth? The Role of eikos in the Debate Against Sophistry

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