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Posted on April 1st, 2012, by

Plato’s  Notions  of Sophist and Statesman Applied to the Analysis of the Shakespeare’s Tragedy Julius Caesar


The Sophist and Statesman are the last dialogues by Plato. They make first two parts of the trilogy but the last part was never written. The dialogues are important because they give good idea about Plato’s method and metaphysics.  The dialogues introduce the transition of Plato’s political though. These dialogues make the transition between his Republic and Laws. The dialogues illustrate Plato’s growing interest to practical application of philosophical knowledge. He makes an attempt to find connections between philosophical models and real life.

In Sophist and Statesmen Plato criticizes in own Theory of Form presented in his earlier work Parmenides. These dialogues present new models which expand the author’s vision and help him to give better definitions of the objects he investigates. The dialogs are more down to earth and contain more practical knowledge.

The Stranger, the main figures of the dialogues, defines the notions of the sophist, the statesmen and the philosopher. The Sophist and Statesmen give expanded definitions of the first two notions but the definition of philosopher is not provided in great detail.

The definition of Sophist derives from the definition of sophistry. In the dialogues sophistry is defined as productive art, which consists of imitation and copy-making.  In Sophist Plato explores the problem of the false statement. This problem was not solved in earlier dialogues by Plato. These helps to come up with the right definition of the Sophist. The author  starts with the exact definition of sophist. He notes that it is necessary to agree on the notion before making attempts to give any definitions. Plato explains the origin of the term sophist. This term derives from the Greek word “sophos”, which stands for the “wise man”.  This way sophist is defined as a person who possesses some wisdom and becomes expert in certain areas. The term implies the person’s abilities to be the expert in certain areas. The origin of the term statesmen also gives idea about the true meaning of the notion. Statesmen or “politicos” in Greek has save origin as the word “polis” or “city”. This term helps to understand the type of activity the statesmen may perform.  This kind of activity is connected with the affairs of the city. The Stranger, the main figure in the dialogues, drives parallels between the statesmen and the king. This gives the reasons to think about the statesmen as about the person who has political power. Another epithet also helps to understand the notion better. Plato gives an example of Homeric Agamemnon, who is regarded as a shepherd for people. This way statesmen is described as a ruler and governor who possesses leading position in the city and rules other people. In short term the terms of Statesmen and Sophist may correspond to the figures of political leader or governor, and the image of outstanding thinker and expert in different fields. Plato uses the example of art in order to show the difference between Sophist and Statement. He shows that the division of arts is more important than the division of people who possess these arts.  This means that Sophist and Statesmen may be differentiated according to the spheres of their activity. For the Statesmen this activity is ruling people and for Sophist the primary activity is making judgments about things and objects. Plato notes that at this point logical problem appears because the art of Sophist is not so easy to define. In contrast to other arts, such as angling or weaving, the art of Sophist can not described in easy terms. Using the analogy with the angler, the participants of the dialogue try to define the art of Sophist and come to the conclusion that the art of Sophist is quite complicated. “The sophist earns wages from those he hunts. He has a product to sell. Returning to acquisitive art, the Stranger this time ignores the branch that leads to hunting, and instead follows the other branch, beginning from the art of acquisition by exchange, and defines the sophist as someone engaged in commerce, who sells products for the soul” (Plato, 224). The actions of the sophist may not be described as physical activity. In contrast to other arts it is hard to make the conclusion about the actions of the sophist by only observing things he does. The situation is complicated by the fact that sophistry, in contrast to angling, has different meaning for different people. Different people may understand different things under sophistry and that is why the actions of sophist may be estimated differently by different people. This is explained by the fact that sophist may have different spheres of action and different people may center on separate spheres and this may results in differences while defining sophist. As states the Stranger: “Do you know that, when someone appears to know many things, and is called by the name of one art, this appearance (phantasma) is not sound, but it is clear that the person experiencing it in relation to some art is unable to see that [feature] of it toward which all these sorts of learning look, and so he addresses the person having them by many names rather than one?” (Plato, 232) Finally the characters come to the conclusion that despite it is hard to give the definition of Sophist he still may be regarded as an expert in disputation in different fields of human knowledge.  In contrast to Sophist, who possesses the knowledge of dispute, Statesman has political power. Plato insists that Statesman  possess the knowledge about how to rule the country in order to be the ruler. Plato underlines that politicians should possess knowledge about how to run the country and only this way they will become true Statesmen.

The characters of famous play by William Shakespeare may also be characterized using the logic of Plato. The terms of Statesmen and Sophist may be used to characterize his characters Cassius, Julius Caesar and Marcus Brutus. Julius Caesar is an outstanding leader of Rome. He is described like strong political leader. He definitely possesses the qualities of the Statesmen. He has the ability to run the people. He may become the King and Plato mentions the characteristics of the king when describing Statesmen in his dialogue. People admire Julius Caesar   for his outstanding political abilities and authority. His outstanding abilities became the subject of concern for the Rome Senate. Some senators became worried that Caesar might change the Republic rule to Empire governed by himself. This fear made the senators to organize the conspiracy and kill Caesar.  Cassius, another character of the play is one of the main conspirators against Julius Caesar. Cassius is directed by his own profit. He does not think about the needs of the country and minds only his own interests. Cassius gathers people against Caesar and takes leading role in his assassination. Cassius is a good manipulator. He lies people in order to reach his personal goals. Cassius presents the type of Sophist who uses his wonderful orator skills and wisdom to manipulate people. On his example we may see how sophism may become a dangerous weapon for those who pursue their own goals and to now care about the common good. Cassius manipulates Brutus and appeals to his sense of civic duty to make him participate in the conspiracy. Cassius appeals to higher ideals and makes other people to join his ambitious plans. He does not think about the needs of others and presents the type of Sophist who manipulates truth for his own profit.  Marcus Brutus is a complex character. He is guided by the sense of duty and wants to save the state from the possible tyranny of his good friend – Julius Caesar. In contrast to Cassius and some other conspirators, Brutus does not think about his own profit. He only wants to bring the use to his state. Brutus presents the type of the Statesmen who cares about the common good. Moreover, Brutus sacrifices his good friend, Julius Caesar, for the sake of common good. This choice becomes the hard decision for Brutus but he sacrifices his own interests and preferences for the sake of other people. Brutus becomes the object of manipulation. Cassius uses his good oratory skills to persuade Brutus to join the conspiracy. The results of Brutus’s actions are still doubtful, but his motifs vividly illustrate his strong social position.

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  • Spencer Krumholz says:

    The realization Keating has when he says “Howard, I’m a parasite. I’ve been a parasite all my life… I have fed on you and all the men like you who lived before we were born… if they hadn’t existed I wouldn’t have known how to put stone to stone… I have taken that which was not mine and given nothing in return…” is not completely a “realization”. He acknowledges the fact that he has gained fame from selling his soul, and that he is a “parasite”. But, it is only an acknowledgement. Keating still wants something out of Roark – something that he hopes will bring him back into the spotlight.

    In conclusion, there is no realization. Keating is inherently a leech. He cannot be sustained without the constant presence of the popularity spotlight. I think that the addition of this quote into your essay weakens your thesis, rather than strengthening it. It provides a similarity between Howard and Peter that is, in essence, not even there.

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