Sophistry is the application of reasoning or arguments that sound acceptable but the argument in the real sense is false. Sophists are rhetoric teachers in Athens in the period of Socrates. They were intellectual figures, mostly considered as wise people. Sophists therefore are teachers or scholars who flourished in Greece initially then in Rome. Sophists made significant contributions to past western thoughts. They offered counterarguments against which Plato and Aristotle defined philosophy after analyzing the objective truth and virtue. Sophism is essential as it can lead to identification of arguments (Gray, 2012).
It is often assumed that sophists are arrogant charlatans who assume that they know everything. Sophists are rhetoric teachers who apply the language of persuasion to manipulate the public to accept their views. Because rhetoric focuses on persuasion, the public have assumed that its fundamental teachings can be applied in any situation and purpose. Once teachers acquire oratory skills, they are able to be more persuasive to non-experts. This ability is what defines the sophists as charlatans. Experts are persuasive and experts mostly use rhetoric. The main challenge with the rhetoric is their application for wrongs reasons, by charlatans.
Sophism is applied in the modern era in slandering an opponent with the aim of swaying an audience to dismiss the arguments of an opponent, even though the arguments may be good (Gray, 2012). Socrates perceived sophistry as manipulative as he asserted that individuals should rely on the best arguments and expertise instead of irrational forms of persuasion that rhetoric applied. Therefore, sophistry and sophism was seen as manipulation of some aspects. After much association with different morals from the society, sophists assert that morality is relative and that there are no moral facts. This is based on the conventional moral belief that people within a cultural definite agree to some morals. The democratic spirit further reinforces the beliefs that morals are conventional, where every opinion related to justice is equally good. According to Socrates, philosophers are good ethical experts, thereby disregarding the belief of sophists that everybody’s opinion is equally good. According to him, philosophers who applied persuasive arguments in political debates were charlatans and hence their opinions were not to be takes seriously.
Similar to pre-medieval period, sophist’s interests are still significant today, as they still focus on aspects such as skepticism and relativism, generation of money, and language versus reality (Blackwell, 2003). Sophists generated a virtue of doubt by introducing statements, as man is the measure of all things. They hold the belief that human discourse plays a significant role in defining personal experience of the world. Rhetoric, other than literary interpretation, is one of the significant teachings they are holding on in the postmodern age (Blackwell, 2003). Therefore, in the post-modern age, sophists are more than the assumed misleading teachers are. Sophists are more of philosophers, since philosophy is defined as the love of wisdom in Greek. It is based on the attitude of desiring to know the truth and become wise rather then hold onto false beliefs.
Even though sophists are perceived as arrogant and foolish, they are highly significant in the democratic government as they are concerned with matters pertaining to justice. Few people in the population are experts of justice, since justice is an aspect of debate. From the arguments and debates, these teachers are able to make decisions on the right move in judicial matters. This skill takes root from the Athenian approach of settling disputes and investigating crimes. From the disputes settled in courts, the argumentative were at an advantage.
Blackwell, C. (2003). Demos: Classical Athenian Democracy. The Stoa: A Consortium for
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Gray, J. W. (2012). The Difference between Sophistry and Philosophy.