Sophistry

You say that like it’s a bad thing…

“There is in philosophy a very old name for the view that the point of argument is to persuade; it’s ‘sophistry’. One of the old Platonic points is that if you take argument to be primarily for the purpose of persuading people to its conclusion, what you are really saying is that reasoning is primarily a way to impose one’s will.” — Arguments and Persuasion

The thing is, even if politicians and managers today believed this – that it’s mere sophistry to define argument as persuasion – they’d say “Ah, sophistry! I didn’t know there was a word for that. Go and hire me a sophist right now! No, two! Two sophists! Get the cheapest you can find, and spare no expense!*

*That’s how politicians and managers talk.

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6 Replies to “Sophistry”

  1. if you take argument to be primarily for the purpose of persuading people to its conclusion, what you are really saying is that reasoning is primarily a way to impose one’s will.

    I’ve no idea if the source is true, but how silly. It only works if “one’s will” is true and reasonable– I can see a series of definitions that would make this work, starting with basically cutting truth out of the equation, probably using words in old, specialized or just same-as-root ways. So, equivocation in support of an appeal to emotion and half-truth, when used outside of that specialized area.

    The point of an argument is to explain to someone why the conclusion is correct…even if it is not my will.

    *****

    Amusingly, vaguely remembered something about the origin of the word “Sophist,” and ended up finding this:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sophist
    b. a person belonging to this class at a later period who, while professing to teach skill in reasoning, concerned himself with ingenuity and specious effectiveness rather than soundness of argument.

  2. It’s early, and I’m feeling a little thick, but this whole argument didn’t make much sense to me, so I looked it up in Wikipedia are found this:
    “In logic and philosophy, an argument is an attempt to persuade someone of something, by giving reasons for accepting a particular conclusion as evident.”
    Which didn’t help at all.

  3. “…it’s mere sophistry to define argument as persuasion”

    That’s bad writing on my part. The author isn’t saying that defining argument as persuasion is an example of sophistry, but that if we define argument as persuasion we reduce logic and reason to sophistry.

  4. Sounds like unintended equivocation– someone hears that it’s persuasion, and conclude that people are saying that everything aimed at changing folks’ mind with words is the same, and that it can’t be anything more, and thus rejects that it’s that at all….

    I’m not saying it right.

    K, horribly exaggerated for clarity:
    “The point of having dogs is because we like them.”
    “The notion that dogs are here for our enjoyment is known as sadism, because any thing you do to them for your pleasure is alright– obviously, dogs cannot be reduced to being kept because we enjoy them!”

    1. That’s a fair point. “Dogs are here for our enjoyment” isn’t the same as “dogs are here merely for our enjoyment.”

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