Fifth-century authors often invoke the idea that human beings are by nature savage, and that the civilized state of human societies is imposed on them by law and custom. A possible consequence of this idea is a pessimistic anthropological account, according to which pleonexia or greed is a natural characteristic of human beings, and therefore a justified drive of human behaviour. Scholars often attribute this pessimistic account of human nature to the sophists, whose views are considered to be reflected in the speeches of Plato’s characters Glaucon and Callicles. Taking into account the genres and the contexts in which the original sophistic arguments concerning savage humanity appear, as well as the practices for which such arguments were implemented, this paper argues that the pessimistc view of human nature is not a product of sophistic thought, but is rather developed by authors such as Thucydides, who uses it in order to explain the atrocities committed in the course of the Peloponnesian war, and Plato, who uses it as a foil to his arguments concerning the superiority of human nature.
Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought – Brill
Published: Apr 12, 2018
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