Isocrates is arguably one of the most influential personalities of the Aristotelian and Platonic philosophies in Athens. Moreover, he has shaped the intellectual as well as cultural development of the world that would be profoundly different without him. Being the representative of critic rhetoric, he argued against the sophists and countered their arguments in several grounds including politics and education. His time of living in Athens prompted this writing as he lived in an era when he foresaw the collapse of certain exigencies. This was augmented by the demand for the proposal at solutions, and he had envisioned himself to offer a solution to his knowledge deprived community. Although Isocrates offers such an extensive critique of the sophists and attempts to distinguish educational and philosophical underpinnings from theirs, he failed to prove his philosophy because he never achieved this distinction successfully.
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Isocrates lays the ground for his critique of the famous Sophist tradition and philosophy of education in “Against the Sophists” where he outlines a series of problematic strategies that the sophists embraced. For Isocrates, politics is pragmatic as opposed to what sophists think of as a call to service. This is because, there will be decision making and implementation of policies. Isocrates argues that the kind of orientation requires the young King Nicocle to appraise his advisors based on conduct that is useful (Isocrates 304). This, therefore, becomes Isocrates’ ground for educational practice and critique of other educators. He argues that the best means to train the soul and mind in any discipline is to ensure that the ability to deliberate and decide is unleashed in the most appropriate way possible. The proper way, according to Isocrates, refers to the capacity to manage all circumstances that one encounters on a daily basis and to pass the judgment that is not only accurate in addressing needs of various occasions as they arise but also guarantees an expedient course of action(Isocrates 314). Through this argument, Isocrates countered other contemporary educators’ philosophy that delved in verbal quibbles and instead urged that teacher should ensure that he had trained his students to be experts who can handle issues of the moment and due to needs of the community. However, it is clear that Isocrates does little to expound further on how exactly to put these techniques into practice. For instance, providing techniques and practical approaches that teachers can adopt to make their students “practical”, as he supposes, is not enough. In this his way, he fails just like the sophists with their verbal quibbles as well. He thinks to teach on practicality which is geared towards meeting immediate service demands, but he leads students and the intellectuals astray by encouraging behaviors that may deteriorate school attendance and commitment towards knowledge acquisition. Moreover, Isocrates also makes an argument for his way of restoring to the community through his service, but, with the weak argument that does little to convince his readers of whether he is taking a discourse, that would benefit the larger Athens community.
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In “Antidosis”, Isocrates attempts to justify his teachings and his need to pay no liturgy dues to the government (Isocrates 201). First, he argues that students should be charged a fee on upfront basis because this will mean that they pay for services that have actually been delivered and not on what is yet to be. This procedure is contrary to the practice in Athens, where students paid full fee at the beginning of any academic year. Isocrates’ method would result into ensuring that students only made such payments when they were satisfied with the service level of the tutor or the instructor. Second, Isocrates also wants to prove his innocence for not paying liturgy for that he had already done through his service and teachings to the community of Athens, and that instead, other wealthier individuals such as the court magistrates should pay these dues. In the first case, for justifying the method of charging a fee, Isocrates seems to be overcome with self-expression and fails to balance this with community demand by somewhat encouraging truancy as students are likely to justify their failure to attend particular classes based on claims of poor service level. Similarly, his followers are also likely to make no contribution towards government services to the community with the argument that their service to the community is enough to pay. Moreover, the claim that the wealthier in the society should pay liturgy is fallacious and is a basis to the development of anarchy where everyone assumes there are people among them who are more affluent and who should submit taxes. In this respect, even the service done to the community through teachings would be “useless verbal quibbles” just like he considered those of the sophists. Additionally, when people do not pay taxes (or liturgy as was in the case of ancient Athens), the government will not be in a position to deliver human services through various welfare programs, and the process will be halted or seriously obstructed (Yun Lee 112). Eventually, it will be of no use to give a service such as Isocrates’ and then to fail to meet actual and real demands of the very community he argues to toil for its welfare.
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In conclusion, it is no doubt that Isocrates has successfully presented his case on the need for a practical approach to teaching students in an attempt to make them better equipped to handle occasions as they arise. However, it did not materialize regardless of the fact that his argument provides ways to put his philosophy into practice. At the same time, he has succeeded in arguing against sophists’ approach to teaching the community empty philosophies without offering practical or pragmatic solutions. However, he does not distinguish himself from sophists because his theorems have detrimental underpinnings and his arguments against payment of liturgy are fundamentally flawed.