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Beware the Sophists


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By Matt Michel, the Service Roundtable

In the 5th century, B.C., the world’s first professional teachers and trainers emerged. They were called Sophists. The Sophists roamed the country, giving lectures, taking students, and teaching on any subject in demand. The subject in greatest demand was public speaking and debate skills for use in politics.

The politicians who sought to learn from the Sophists weren’t concerned with truth so much as persuasion. The Sophists were not paid to teach truth, but to win arguments. They could argue that black was white, white was black, good was bad, and bad was good. They became expert in tripping up opponents, setting rhetorical snares to trap them, and if all else failed, drowning them out with the volume of noise they could generate.

The Sophists and their students mastered the ability to twist arguments, to use confusion, to create false arguments. They took pride in being smart and clever, not in integrity and honesty.

For these reasons, Merriam-Webster defines sophistry as “subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation.â€

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