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483-375 BC

Gorgias was a Greek sophist and rhetorician that was born in Leontine, Sicily in the year 485 BC. He traveled to Athens on a diplomatic mission for the first time in 427 BC, but he returned a few years later to make it his home. Eventually he traveled throughout Greece teaching and practicing rhetoric. Gorgias first introduced cadence into prose and used common sense arguments. He also developed an intricate philosophy theory of existence and examined the roles of men and women in the Greek society. He lived to be 105 and died in Thessally.

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Gorgias clearly laid out his ideas in "On Nature or the Non-Existent" and his other extant works, "The Encomium on Helen" and "The Apology of Palamedes." In his work "On Nature or the Non-Existent," Gorgias pursued the eleatic arguments on existence. His argument can be summarized as follows:

1) Nothing exists.

2) If anything did exist it could never by known.

3) If anything did exist and was known, it could never be communicated.

He tried to persuade the reader that thought and existence are not the same by claiming that if thought and existence truly were the same, then everything that anyone thought, would suddenly exist. He also attempted to prove that words and sensations cannot be measured by the same standards, for even though words and sensations are both derived from the mind, they are essentially different. [1]

Gorgias expressed ideas about how to run a household. He thought that men should "administer to the state [2] ," that the men should be in complete control of the daily activities of their household. A women was supposed to "order her house and keep what is indoors, and obey her husband [3]." Gorgias also believed that virtue was different for men and women.

Gorgias was a humanistic philosopher, and his theses were examples of the tactics used by Greek humanism to dispute the physical sciences. Gorgias used analytical, not synthetic, arguments to disprove the ideas of the Protagoreans, who believed that there was an external reality that only the mind perceives. Gorgias denied this realm completely. [4] Gorgias' philosophy on the existence or non-existence of things has found little acceptance today, but his ideas are still challenging and thought provoking.


Benn, John Murray, The Greek Philosophers , (London, 1914).

Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 13, (Danbury, Connecticut; Grolier Inc, 1980).

Guthrie, W. K .C., The Greek Philosophers from Thales to Aristotle, (New York; Harper and Brothers, 1950).


[a] The work is called "On Nature or Nothing" in Greek Philosophers p. 84.

[1] Guthrie, Greek Philosophers, p. 68.

[2] Benn, Greek Philosophers , p.195.

[3] Benn, Greek Philosophers , p.195

[4] Benn, Greek Philosophers, p.426

Edited by: Harvest J. Pack
Researched by: Eudora M. Fay
Written by: Polyxeni Khalil
December 2, 1996

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