ANTIPHON THE SOPHIST OF ATHENS (Αντιφων)—a philosopher, rhetorician, and statesman, identified with Antiphon of Ramnus, 480&ndash.;411 BC.
He practiced his profession as a logographer—a professional writer of judicial speeches often written to order. He was an active participant in the anti-democratic opposition in Athens. This opposition intensified its activity during the Peloponnesian War (431—404). He was one of the creators of the return of oligarchy in 411. After the fall of the oligarchical government he was accused of anti-democratic activities, sentenced to death, and executed. He was the author of sixty judicial speeches of which fifteen have survived, as well as fragments of speech, On revolution (Περι μεταστασεως [Peri metastaseos]) which he read in his defense at the trial. He also wrote philosophical works: On truth (Περι ’αληθειας [Peri aletheias]); On agreement (Περι ‘ομονοιας [Peri homonoias], and Political treatise (Πολιτικος [Politikos]) preserved in a papyrus from Oxyrrynchos and in other sources.
Unlike the older generation of Sophists, Antiphon professed the existence of a law of nature. He thought that the nature of reality or the structure of the cosmos determines man’s status in his biological and social life. All the activities of men are determined by their natural desire for personal benefit. All men are by nature equal, as is indicated by their physical construction and biological functions. Social divisions result from human decisions, from social convention (νομος [nomos]) which violates the natural right to equality. He saw a contradiction between positive law and the law of nature, between the content of the concept of justice (δικαιοσυνη [dikaiosyne]) which is dictated by the nature of reality, and the contents which the law of the state attaches to this concept. He demonstrated these theses with conclusions drawn from observation, that those who violate the law of the state may be unpunished as long as their deeds are not known, while the violation of the laws of nature—as an evil—always entails a penalty; moreover the laws of the state do not have as their purpose the benefit of man. He thought, however, that the laws of the state can be made to conform to the law of nature by properly directing the acts of social convention on the basis of a knowledge of the structure of the cosmos.
Diels-Kranz I-III (passim); M. Untersteiner, Sofisti. Testimonianze e frammenti I–IV, Fi 1949—1962; M. Timpanaro Cardini, I sofisti. Frammenti e testimonianze, Bari 1954²; C. Corbato, Sofisti e politica ad Atene durante la guerra del Peloponneso, Tr 1958; J. Classen, Sophistik, Da 1976; G. Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement, C 1981; J. Gajda, Sofiści [Sophists], Wwa 1989.