Printable Version
Pronunciation: sah-fis-tree Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Mass noun) The pretense of reasoning; plausible but deviously false argumentation. 2. (Count noun) A plausible but deviously false argument.

Notes: Sophistry is what sophists resort to. A sophistic argument is compelling but completely misleading. Although such an argument requires a level of guileful sophistication, sophistication and sophistry must not be confused. Sophistry is the pretense of reasoning usually by someone whose mind is already set and cannot be changed by any amount of reasoning.

In Play: Beware of sophistry hiding base motives, such as greed: "The rationale behind the outlandish compensation packages received by some US CEOs is pure sophistry." Sophistry is not accidental; it is the result of intentional guile: "All of Derry Yare's arguments for buying a company airplane boil down to sophistry from someone who wants a plane for his own private use."

Word History: The original Sophists were 5th century BCE Greek philosophers who Plato demonstrated were superficial manipulators of logic. In Greek they are called sophistes from sophizesthai "to become wise", a verb based on sophos "wise". So, in ancient Greek the term was not pejorative. We don't know where sophos came from, but we do know where it went. That is it in philosophy, the love of wisdom (philos "love"). It is also the root of Sophia, as in St. Sophia, the wise woman chosen to be the patron saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church when it separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054. The Roman Church had chosen a man, St. Peter, whose name means "rock, stone", as its patron saint. Were the leaders of the Orthodox Church thinking of eventual remarriage when they broke off from Rome? (Today we thank Mark Cavallo of Haddon Township, New Jersey for the wisdom he showed in suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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