The sophists cared more about winning arguments and status via good arguing rather than actual credible, ethical points and reasoning. As many do today
By: Alexandria Addesso
Sophia is often used as a name for a female in modern society, but it means “wise” or “wisdom” in Greek. It is from this “Sophos” type prefix that we get the term sophism. What is sophism? Originally sophism referred to a group of teachers in ancient Greece, the sophists. The sophists were known to frequent large Greek cities such as Athens in the second half of the fifth century B.C.E. They focused their teachings on rhetoric and dialectic, aretē which meant excellence or virtue.
The sophists cared more about winning arguments and status via good arguing rather than actual credible, ethical points and reasoning. The aretē they taught began to be associated with the ability to influence one’s fellow citizens in political gatherings through rhetorical persuasion and thus, the sophistic education both grew out of and exploited this shift. The sophists’ teachings also did not come cheap. Unlike some philosophers of the time that openly taught in the streets freely, the sophists’ teachings came with a hefty fee, only the wealthy could attain it. This is part of the reason that the philosopher Socrates was often at odds with the sophists, but truly the bigger factor was their soft if not non-existent view on absolute truths.
So, what about modern-day sophists? Would Socrates also be at odds with them? Absolutely. But who are the modern-day sophists? Some attribute this title to contemporary lawyers. They eloquently argue any defense and persuade without any regard of ethics or even the truth necessarily. Yet, more people seem to point out modern day sophists to be those in the political sphere.
Let’s take for instance the multiple talking heads on channels such as CNN, FoxNews, or MSNBC. Shows where people of different viewpoints literally cackle at each other for an hour of programming, it’s not about which is ethically right but rather who can argue their point better and louder. This school of thought is nurtured throughout elementary and high school with debate teams and classes that even carry on into higher education. Ethical viewpoints, logic and morals seem to be secondary to eloquent elocutions.
But what does it mean that sophistism is gaining popularity in our society? It means that the people will better value individuals that can speak well, sound good and make them feel good rather than actual sound logic and reasoning. It means that we are more concerned about man, the individual rather than the collective universe. It means that most are more open to the suggestion of a charismatic cult leader or a candidate offering them eternal paradise. Choose wisely friends.