Sunday, May 3, 2009


I was listening to talk radio two evenings ago. Michael Smerconish labeled Barack Obama as a sophist. Here is the meaning.

In modern usage, sophism, sophist, and sophistry are derogatory terms, due the influence of many philosophers in the past (sophism and platonism were enemy schools).

A sophism is taken as a specious argument used for deceiving someone. It might be crafted to seem logical while actually being wrong, or it might use difficult words and complicated sentences to intimidate the audience into agreeing, or it might appeal to the audience's prejudices and emotions rather than logic, i.e. raising doubts towards the one asserting, rather than his assertion. The goal of a sophism is often to make the audience believe the writer or speaker to be smarter than he or she actually is, e.g., accusing another of sophistry for using persuasion techniques. An argument Ad Hominem is an example of Sophistry.

A sophist is a user of sophisms, i.e., an insincere person trying to confuse or deceive people. A sophist tries to persuade the audience while paying little attention to whether his argument is logical and factual.

Sophistry means making heavy use of sophisms. The word may be applied to a particular text or speech riddled with sophisms.

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