Gorgias was a sophist philosopher born in the Greek city Leontinoi around 485 B.C., and died in 380 B.C., at the age of 105. He was a disciple of Empedocles of Agrigento, learned the doctrine of the Pythagoreans and of Melissus of Samos, but eventually became a skeptic.
He began teaching in Sicily, and then went to Athens. At the end of his life, Gorgias settled in Larissa, in Thessaly.
Melissus of Samos had written a work called On Nature, that is, on Being. Gorgias then sought to refute the ideas contained in Melissus’ book, and so he wrote his main work called On Nature, that is, on non-being.
Gorgias’ main ideas
Gorgias’ ideas contradict those of Parmenides and the other Eleatic philosophers, who claimed that being is, and non-being is not.
Being, in Parmenides’ view, is eternal, immutable, one, indivisible. Being was not generated in time, for it has always been what it is; nor can it be reduced to nothingness.
Against these metaphysical theses, the sophist Gorgias develops a very curious argument. Let’s look at his reasoning.
Gorgias argued that non-being, that is, nothingness, existed. He reasoned as follows:
Being is, and non-being is not. Now, if non-being is not, then it is something. It is the non-existent, therefore, non-being is. Therefore, nothing exists.
Once it is proven that non-being is, then its opposite, being, is not.
The being is not
For being to exist, in fact, it must be eternal or generated (thesis supported by Parmenides). But if the being is eternal, it must be infinite in space and time. However, if it is infinite it will be everywhere, but that which is everywhere is nowhere. Therefore, being cannot be eternal.
If we consider that being is generated, then it is born from non-being, which is not possible, since nothing comes from nothing. But what if being is born from being? Impossible, because in this case the being would already exist before it was born, which is absurd.
Therefore, being is not. And if non-being is, nothing exists. This doctrine of Gorgias has been called “nihilism,” because it places “nothingness” as the philosophical foundation of reality.
Overview of Gorgias’ Ideas
Gorgias’ other ideas about Being, can be summarized in the following points:
- Nothing exists, because philosophers have presented different definitions contrary to each other, and this demonstrates that being does not exist.
- Even if being existed, it would be unknowable, that is, impossible to know by any means. Thought does not always think about being, as Parmenides defended, because sometimes we think things that do not exist, for example, the Chimera, Titans, etc.
- Considering the possibility of being able to think about being, we would not be able to express it in words, because being is inexpressible. If our words cannot express being, reality, then it is no longer the transmitter of truth; the word becomes the bearer of persuasion and suggestion.
When the word is used to persuade the public, an assembly, or judges, then it becomes a great instrument for rhetoric (oratory); but if the word is being used for aesthetic purposes, then we have art. For this reason, Gorgias is considered the father of rhetoric.
Cite This Work
Vieira, S. (2021, December 06). Gorgias. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/gorgias/.
Vieira, Sadoque. “Gorgias.” Filosofia do Início, December 6, 2021. https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/gorgias/.
Vieira, Sadoque. “Gorgias.” Filosofia do Início, 6 Dec. 2021, https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/gorgias/.