The fight between Plato and Isocrates in ancient Greece

The fight between Plato and Isocrates is particularly significant as it marks the initial clash in the long-lasting war between philosophy and rhetoric. Eventually, the war deteriorated into a trivial dispute, lacking any significant impact from either side. However, at its inception, the opposing factions embodied the authentic driving forces and necessities of the Greek population.

The literature produced in ancient Greece during the fourth century demonstrates a prevalent effort to define the essence of genuine paideia. Isocrates, who is considered the primary advocate of rhetoric, embodies the classical resistance against Plato and his followers. Henceforth, the ongoing competition between philosophy and rhetoric, with each asserting its superiority as a cultural form, permeates the entirety of ancient civilization’s history.

Describing every aspect of that competition is unattainable due to its repetitive nature and the lack of captivating personalities among its opposing leaders.

The battle took place in the heart of the political arena. This is what imparts the vibrant coloring of a genuinely historical event, and the expansive scope that sustains our enduring interest in it.

Upon reflection, we recognize that this fight epitomizes the fundamental issues of that entire era in Greek history. Even now, Isocrates, like Plato, has his supporters and interpreters. It is undeniable that since the Renaissance, Isocrates has had a much bigger impact on the educational approaches of humanism than any other instructor from ancient Greece or Rome.

From a historical perspective, it is accurate to refer to him as the progenitor of ‘humanistic culture’, as the sophists cannot genuinely lay claim to that title.

Furthermore, our current pedagogical methods and ideals can be traced back directly to him, as they can to Quintilian and Plutarch.

It is crucial to acknowledge that what contemporary educators often consider as the core of humanism is primarily an extension of the rhetorical aspect in classical culture. However, the history of humanism is much more extensive and diverse, encompassing all the various remnants of Greek paideia, including the global impact of Greek philosophy and science.

From this perspective, it is evident that comprehending the authentic Greek paideia necessitates a critique of contemporary academic humanism. However, the full significance of philosophy and science within Greek civilization cannot be accurately assessed without considering their competition with other forms of intellectual endeavor in order to establish themselves as the dominant cultural form. Ultimately, both philosophy and rhetoric, which are rivals, originate from poetry, the earliest form of Greek education. Understanding both requires acknowledging their connection to poetry.

However, as the long-standing competition for cultural dominance gradually focuses on a debate about the comparative merits of philosophy and eloquence, it becomes evident that the once esteemed alliance between physical education and intellectual culture in ancient Greece has now significantly declined.