Antiphon of Athens


Antiphon was a sophist philosopher born in Athens in the 4th century BC. Most of the information about his life is uncertain.

Pseudo-Plutarch, in Life of the Ten Orators, talks about his youth, relating his stay in Corinth, where Antiphon is said to have devoted himself to a type of therapy that aimed to cure human grief and suffering. When he realized that this therapeutic practice was not up to his standards, he would have turned to rhetoric.

There is a huge debate about the identity of Antiphon, for there was another, called Antiphon of Rhamnus, a famous orator, who appears in Thucydides as one of those responsible for the coup d’état of the Four Hundred, and who was the author of a collection of rhetorical exercises called the Tretalogies.

The ancient sources, therefore, suggest two different characters: the sophist Antiphon, and the orator and politician Antiphon.

Some have argued that there are doctrinal differences between the two: the orator Antiphon, is a conservative adherent of the law and an aristocrat; while the sophist Antiphon, is a radical egalitarian anarchist.


Antiphon of Athens wrote the works:

  • On Truth;
  • Politicus;
  • Concord;
  • On the Interpretation of Dreams;
  • Arts of Rhetoric;
  • The Art of Deliverance from Pain;

Antiphon’s Thought

According to Giovanni Reale, the opposition between nature (natural law) and positive law that the Sophistic philosopher Hippias of Elis would have made, Antiphon radicalizes it even further.

Antiphon identifies, in eleatic terms, nature with truth, and positive law with opinion (doxa).

The law of nature, he says, should be followed even when it transgresses the laws of men.

Cosmopolitan ideal

Like Hippias, Antiphon also defends a cosmopolitan ideal; he argues that all men are equal by nature, without distinction of origins.

With this, he broke the idea of superiority that the Greeks nurtured; each people, each citizen is equal to the other, there could be no distinction between Greeks and barbarians; by nature, all men are equal: they all have the same natural needs, the same feelings, etc.

On Justice

In On Truth, Antiphon argues that legal systems were born from the agreement between men, because they feared social chaos in case of a conflict, so they created laws and norms.

For Antiphon, justice would be only the compliance and respect given to the laws promulgated by the state.

Cite This Work

Vieira, S. (2021, December 08). Antiphon of Athens. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from

Vieira, Sadoque. “Antiphon of Athens.” Filosofia do Início, December 8, 2021.

Vieira, Sadoque. “Antiphon of Athens.” Filosofia do Início, 8 Dec. 2021,


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