The Irony of Sophistication

The Irony of Sophistication or the arte of being ‘magnolia’ in an extreme world of extreme environments, opinions and beliefs (the art of being a fence-sitter, with no ethical stance) .

Sophists – Clever people who prided themselves in the ability to prove contradictory statements with convincing argument for opposing views (without conviction to either cause).

Sophistication – The state of being sceptical regarding all claims to an ‘absolute truth,’ being flexible enough in one’s opinion to accommodate whatever ideology reigns supreme(the art of spin  – the avoidance of commitment, enabling the jump across all principle in all realms of life, from paradigm to regime) .

(Image: Jacques-Louis David – The Death of Socrates)

“The Greek σοφός (sophos), related to the noun σοφία (sophia), had the meaning ‘skilled’ or ‘wise’ since the time of the poet Homer and originally was used to describe anyone with expertise in a specific domain of knowledge or craft. For example, a charioteer, a sculptor or a warrior could be described as sophoi in their occupations. Gradually, however, the word also came to denote general wisdom and especially wisdom about human affairs (for example, in politics, ethics, or household management). This was the meaning ascribed to the Greek Seven Sages of 7th and 6th century BC (like Solon and Thales), and it was the meaning that appeared in the histories of Herodotus. Richard Martin refers to the seven sages as ‘performers of political poetry.’

From the word σοφός (sophos) is derived the verb σοφίζω (sophizo), which means ‘to instruct or make learned.’ but which in the passive voice means ‘to become or be wise,’ or ‘to be clever or skilled in a thing.’ In turn, from this verb is derived the noun σοφιστής (sophistes), which originally meant “a master of one’s craft” but later came to mean ‘a prudent man’ or ‘wise man.’ The word for ‘sophist’ in various languages comes from sophistes.

In the second half of the 5th century BCE, particularly at Athens, ‘sophist’ came to denote a class of mostly itinerant intellectuals who taught courses in various subjects, speculated about the nature of language and culture and employed rhetoric to achieve their purposes, generally to persuade or convince others: ‘Sophists did, however, have one important thing in common: whatever else they did or did not claim to know, they characteristically had a great understanding of what words would entertain or impress or persuade an audience.’


Most sophists claimed to teach arête (‘excellence’ or ‘virtue’) in the management and administration of not only one’s affairs, but the city’s as well. Before the fifth century B.C., it was believed that aristocratic birth qualified a person for arête and politics. However, Protagoras, who is regarded as the first Sophist, explained that arête is the result of training rather than birth. Protagoras was one of the best-known and most successful teachers. He taught his students the necessary skills and knowledge for a successful life, particularly in politics, rather than philosophy. He trained his pupils to argue from both points of view because he believed that truth could not be limited to just one side of the argument. The works of Plato and Aristotle have had much influence on the modern view of the ‘sophist’ as a greedy instructor who uses rhetorical sleight-of-hand and ambiguities of language in order to deceive, or to support fallacious reasoning. In this view, the sophist is not concerned with truth and justice, but instead seeks power.Protagoras wrote about a variety of subjects and some fragments of his work survived. He is the author of the famous saying, ‘Man is the measure of all things,’ (meaning Man decides for himself what he is going to believe), which is the opening sentence of a work called Truth.


Many sophists taught their skills for a price. Due to the importance of such skills in the litigious social life of Athens, practitioners often commanded very high fees. The sophists’ practice of questioning the existence and roles of traditional deities and investigating into the nature of the heavens and the earth prompted a popular reaction against them. The attacks of some of their followers against Socrates prompted a vigorous condemnation from his followers, including Plato and Xenophon, as there was a popular view of Socrates as a sophist. For example, the comic playwright Aristophanes criticizes the sophists as hair-splitting wordsmiths, and makes Socrates their representative. Their attitude, coupled with the wealth garnered by many of the sophists, eventually led to popular resentment against sophist practitioners and the ideas and writings associated with sophism.

In comparison, Socrates accepted no fee, instead professed a self-effacing posture, which he exemplified by Socratic questioning (i.e., the Socratic method, although Diogenes Laertius wrote that Protagoras—a sophist—invented the ‘Socratic’ method. His attitude towards the Sophists was by no means oppositional; in one dialogue Socrates even stated that the Sophists were better educators than he was, which he validated by sending one of his students to study under a sophist. W. K. C. Guthrie classified Socrates as a Sophist in his History of Greek Philosophy. An ongoing debate is centered on the interpretation between the sophists who charged for their services and Socrates who did not.

Before the writing of Plato, the word ‘sophist’ could be used as either a respectful or contemptuous title, much like the word ‘intellectual’ can be used today. It was in Plato’s dialogue, Sophist, that the first record of an attempt to answer the question ‘What is a Sophist?’ is made. Plato described Sophists as paid hunters after the young and wealthy, as merchants of knowledge, as athletes in a contest of words, and purgers of souls. From Plato’s assessment of Sophists it could be concluded that Sophists do not offer true knowledge, but only an opinion of things.

Plato describes them as shadows of the true early Sophists and wrote, ‘…the art of contradiction making, descended from an insincere kind of conceited mimicry, of the semblance-making breed, derived from image making, distinguished as portion, not divine but human, of production, that presents, a shadow play of words—such are the blood and the lineage which can, with perfect truth, be assigned to the authentic Sophist.’ Plato sought to separate the Sophist from the Philosopher. Where a Sophist was a person who makes his living through deception, a philosopher was a lover of wisdom who sought truth. To give the Philosophers greater credence, the Sophists had to receive a negative connotation.


Some scholars, such as Ugo Zilioli argue that the sophists held a relativistic view on cognition and knowledge. However, this may involve the Greek word ‘doxa,’ which means ‘culturally shared belief’ rather than ‘individual opinion.’ Their philosophy contains criticism of religion, law, and ethics. Though many sophists were apparently as religious as their contemporaries, some held atheistic or agnostic views (for example, Protagoras and Diagoras of Melos).

In addition, Sophists had great impact on the early development of law, as the sophists were the first lawyers in the world. Their status as lawyers was a result of their highly developed skills in argument.

In modern usage, sophism, sophist and sophistry are redefined and used disparagingly. A sophism is a specious argument for displaying ingenuity in reasoning or for deceiving someone. A sophist is a person who reasons with clever but fallacious and deceptive arguments.

Hume’s empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour and argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is ultimately founded solely in experience; Hume thus held that genuine knowledge must either be directly traceable to objects perceived in experience, or result from abstract reasoning about relations between ideas which are derived from experience, calling the rest ‘nothing but sophistry and illusion,’ a dichotomy later given the name Hume’s fork.”

(quoted text from wiki – Sophistry)

So, ultimately, in the search for Truth we will all encounter both the noble and the ignoble sophist, the deceiver, the egotist, the self-server, the smooth talker – most of whom will be those wielding political power . These are only the most obvious. Many, many others others take many many forms, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, and they all wish to mold and shape your thinking. Symbology is the most powerful method of manipulation, saturating with the greatest impression. Beware of social media – Be aware of what truly are YOUR thoughts. Suspend automatic belief, acquire discretion, discernment and observe the caveat to know.

Seek gnosis.


~ by meanderingsofthemuse on October 4, 2017.

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