Sophists, A Revaluation: Psychological Basis
The 'revaluation' of Sophists, the philosophers of ancient Greece, is undertaken to correct a misunderstanding that lies at the root of much of our modern worlds' woes. The problem is how to help an individual or culture recognize an error in judgment or common opinion (valuation) which may have been growing undisturbed by introspection, or precluded by cultural norms and prejudices from receiving a fair and objective 'value'. Changing someone's mind is difficult, for though you may deftly explicate the actuality by evidence and argument, it is still unlikely to dislodge the error, because often, it’s roots run deep into and are meshed with the earth of that person or culture’s world view (Weltanschauung). These pre (a priori) and post (a posteriori) conceptions are the foundation of our perceived ‘identity’. To cast doubt on the validity of this image of our self is seen as an affront to one's integrity, quite naturally creating an ‘identity crisis’, for it is this foundation stone of self awareness upon which a stable, healthy persona is constructed and maintained against the pull of powerful instincts and self destructive emotions.
In the face of such a crisis the psyche gathers its defenses against any assault. Commonly there is an instinctive or ‘archetypal’ series of autonomous dynamic processes or complexes that 'take over', that take control of the thought processes completely in the background ‘sub-conscious’ layer of the psyche, the person remaining consciously unaware for the most part that his thoughts are not his own (with exceptions, of course). First to occur is the breakdown of objectivity and a polarization of sentiments into two camps, us and the enemy intruder (upon the integrity of identity) Normally we are not blinded to the gray areas between opposing ideas or positions on issues, recognizing that truth usually resides somewhere in the middle, but under the influence of these autonomous responses we begin to see our identity as all white and the polarized threat as black, good versus evil, righteous versus heathen, all right versus all wrong.
Carl Jung, who became Freud’s chosen heir-apparent before breaking from Freud’s sexual-obsession theories to create a more existential, holistic psychology, referred to two of these ‘complexes’ as ‘enantiodromia’ and ‘inflation’ and used the etymological root ‘anim’ – to refer to the male (animus) and female (anima) versions of the ‘animosity’ these autonomous, reflexive, instinctive, thought patterns create. Jung proposed these and various other ‘archetypes’ to account for otherwise unexplainable behavior, thoughts, dreams, and delusions that carry universally common themes and elements not obtained from personal experience. As the source of these phenomena Jung believed there existed a ‘collective unconsciousness’, as he called it, from which personal psyches drew upon as needed to balance the forces acting upon it. This ‘animosity’ was necessary to provide the energy and impetus to survive the daily life and death struggle of early man, yet in our modern world these vestigial primordial modes of reactionary response to modern conflicts of interest do little but cause a vast waste of resources, or at their worse, compel those under their power to choose war as the only way to resolve it. The bloodiest century in history, just ended, proves the powers of these archetypes have not waned.
Jung, saw the cure for this downward reactionary spiral in man’s ability to see the truth despite the power of these forces over him. By consciously recognizing the ‘shadow’', the 'dark side', of archetypal, instinctive, and reactionary influences within ourselves we gain the power to overcome them. Re-assimilation of the shadow quells the ‘inflation’ and dispels the destructive pent-up energies of ‘enantiodromia’, freeing the mind from the grip of the archetypes, re-establishing relative objectivity. This ‘objectivity’, being able to recognize the merits and truth within all sides of an issue is difficult to maintain amid the pulls of the exigencies of survival, Schopenhauer's ‘Will’, and Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ (these are discussed in other essays), but it is the most valuable tool we possess in the quest for truth. Inherent in this ability is being able to step outside of your personal ‘space’, to create an at least temporary detachment from the wants, needs, and desires which are pouring spontaneously from your being into your conscious and subconscious mind. This psychological state is achievable through various means such as prayer, meditation, deep thought, the practice of love through compassion and empathy, and much study, or, being mentored by, an ‘adept’.
Once achieved, to be able to maintain this state constantly amid life’s demands is what is called ‘enlightenment’ (at least to an extent – there are other attributes which are manifest in varying degrees by these ‘gurus’). That this sought after ‘enlightenment’ is a psychological state achieved by heightened, continuously ‘open’ awareness of ‘Absolute Relativity’ or truth, is revealed by a study of the relevant literature. This is what the Socratic-type philosophers known as sophists sought to teach, as opposed to the moral relativists exemplified by Protagoras or Crito. There is no comparing the two groups except that both were philosophers, which is the source of the misunderstanding. Socrates was no moral relativist, but he was ...a Sophist.
©2003 Thomas Theodore Welborn