Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis is an examination of Isocrates' claim to being a philosopher. Isocrates is often discredited as a philosopher because he thought the pursuit of abstract arguments about metaphysics, axiology, and human nature do not really constitute the love of wisdom. Real wisdom, for Isocrates, lays in understanding how to put knowledge to practical use. This ability is exemplified in the intellectual excellence phronesis. Those with phronesis are able to produce reasonable opinions that have practical benefits. The soundness of such conjectures is not presented through geometric proof; rather, Isocrates argues in a way that he deems suitable for the topic at hand.
For Isocrates, the most important issue for deliberation is the course of human affairs, especially those of the community. However, justifying a given course of action requires a different means of argumentation than what one may use when justifying a mathematical conclusion. Isocrates rejected the Platonists' goal of strictly governing all praxis by reference to the forms because he contended that there are no hard and fast rules about how to apply knowledge in a given situation. The person of practical wisdom does not seek to eliminate the role chance plays in the outcome of a decision because such a feat is impossible; instead, he or she minimizes the influence of luck by grounding doxai in reference to the past or common knowledge.
Since Isocrates highly values practical wisdom, philosophy is defined as the pursuit, or study, that can provide the kind of insight which improves the power to generally determine what is the most expedient course. It is the man of sound opinion that Isocrates calls the philosopher.
Farr, Daniel, "Isocrates the Philosopher" (2006). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5615.
McMaster University Library