Whereas, so long as philosophy was in abeyance Socrates and the Socratics were regarded as sophists of an abnormal sort, as soon as philosophy revived it was dimly perceived that, in so far as Socrates and the Socratics dissented from sophistry, they preserved the philosophical tradition.
The education given by the Sophists aimed at no general theory of life, but professed to expound the art of getting on in the world and of managing public affairs.
In fact, it is not too much to say that it was the sophists who provided those great masters with their consummate instrument, and it detracts but little from the merit of the makers if they were themselves unable to draw from it its finer tones.
While he emphasizes in the later sophists the consequences of the fundamental error of sophistry - its indifference to truth - he does honour to the genius and the originality of the leaders of the movement.
Finally, the practice of rhetoric and eristic, which presently became prominent in sophistical teaching, had, or at any rate seemed to have, a mischievous effect upon conduct; and the charge of seeking, whether in exposition or in debate, not truth but victory - which charge was impressively urged against the sophists by Plato - grew into an accusation of holding and teaching immoral and unsocial doctrines, and in our own day has been the subject of eager controversy.
Accordingly the epideictic sophists in exposition, and the argumentative sophists in debate, one and all, studied, not matter but style, not accuracy but effect, not proof but persuasion.
The Sophists and the Sceptics, Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics and the Epicureans took up the question, and from the time of Locke and Kant it has been prominent in modern philosophy.
The sophists have other claims to consideration than their service to the development of logic. In the history of the origins of logic the sophistic age is simply the age of the free play of thought in which men were aware that in a sense anything can be debated and not yet aware of the sense in which all things cannot be so.
Contrariwise, the sophists were always and essentially professors of the higher education; and, although in process of time specialization assimilated sophistry to the arts, at the outset at any rate, its declared aim - the cultivation of the civic character - sufficiently distinguished sophistical education both from professional instruction and from artistic training: It is true too that in some of the colonies philosophy had busied itself with higher education; but here again the forerunners of the sophists are easily distinguished from the sophists, since the sophists condemned not only the scientific speculations of their predecessors, but also their philosophical aims, and offered to the Greek world a new employment for leisure, a new intellectual ambition.
A famous problem concerning the cube, namely, to construct a cube of twice the volume of a given cube, was attacked with great vigour by the Pythagoreans, Sophists and Platonists.