When Will We Defend Ourselves from Sophistry?

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...Citizen Tom

What is the greatest danger we pose to each other? Some fear axe murderers. Others fear  thieves.  While others find themselves horrified by rapists. And each of these villains do commit foul crimes, but the expert, amoral sophists commit the greatest evils. With worm tongued ease, they plant the germs of falsehoods into our beliefs; they persuade us that it is both right and proper to murder, steal, and rape.

We tend to consider the worm tongued obsequious, and perhaps that defines the character of many, but history suggests the worm tongued more often provide a haughty display.  

Consider the origins of the word “sophist”.

sophist (n.)Look up sophist at Dictionary.com1540s, earlier  sophister (late 14c.), from Latin sophista, sophistes, from Greek sophistes, from sophizesthai “to become wise or learned,” from sophos “wise, clever,” of unknown origin. Greek sophistes came to mean “one who gives intellectual instruction for pay,” and, contrasted with “philosopher,” it became a term of contempt. Ancient sophists were famous for their clever, specious arguments.

The term sophist began as a compliment, but over time changed. The term arose in ancient Greece, and it described a group of men who taught Sophism.

Sophists were philosopher-teachers who traveled around Greek cities claiming to teach their students everything that was necessary to be successful in life including rhetoric and public speaking. These were useful skills in Athens, where being persuasive could lead to political power and economic wealth. Although there were numerous differences among Sophist teachings, a prominent element in their philosophy was skepticism. Sophists taught their beliefs for a considerable price. Overall, Sophists identified as either agnostic or atheistic. (from here)

The lawyer is our modern equivalent of the sophist, and for the same reasons the practices of worm tongued turned the term sophist into an insult, the term lawyer raises the blood pressure today. Many modern lawyers and ancient sophists engage in a practice we call sophistry.

An Example

Consider this example:  Common Core can make America competitive by John Engler. Engler is, of course, a lawyer. Is he also a sophist? I don’t know much about him, but this article displays sophistry. How does Engler’s article display sophistry?

  • Engler never seriously attempts to justify whether Federal involvement in education is right or wrong. Ethics is not the interest of the sophist. For personal gain, the sophist seeks to manipulate his neighbor.
  • Engler plays upon our emotions.  He works to create a sense of crisis — WE ARE FALLING BEHIND! And only wise men such as himself have the solution.
  • Engler’s article utilizes the techniques modern purveyors of sophistry call propagandaor information warfare. Propaganda and information warfare are not new; Engler just attempts to sell us a pig in a poke. What is amazing is our readiness to go along withCommon Core Standards. We already spend massive amounts of money on education, and imposing Common Core Standards are going to fix our broken system? Of course not. Yet Engler makes it sound so reasonable.

Many of us don’t have children in school. So we hardly pay attention to the subject. Yet without the threat of military force we cannot control how other people educate their children (Doesn’t government exists to exercise force?). That is especially true of children on the other side of the country. So what is Engler’s Common Core snake oil going to accomplish? Too occupied with other matters, most of us will never investigate well enough to know. All we will know is that some big shot named John Engler and a bunch of well paid CEOs and bureaucrats thought it a good idea.


Whenever some big shot tries to sell us on a big government program, does it hurt to ask some basic questions?

  • When it comes to public education, how useful is advice from CEOs? Don’t these people send their children to private schools? Instead of the able and well-informed citizens we need to run a republic, what is the chance CEOs just want docile bureaucrats to serve in their corporations and numbskulls eager to buy never ending streams of merchandise made in China?
  • What is the biggest complaint about the public schools? Aren’t parents upset with an unresponsive bureaucracy? How does nationalizing educational standards solve that problem? Are the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. more responsive to parents than the members of their local School Board?
  • What are the big shot CEOs Engler represents getting out of this? The Federal Government now spends almost four trillion a year, more than state and local governments combined. Is it possible that the CEOs who form the Business Roundtableexpect to benefit if the Feds further increase spending on education?
  • Isn’t Engler really asking us to force our neighbors to participate in this scam? Why do people have to be pressured to adopt national standards? The Common Core Standards are suppose to be voluntary, but the Federal Government spends money on education, and Federal funds reward the states that participate in Common Core Standards. Don’t we already know that ”reward” will soon morph into a requirement?
  • Here is the big question. Why does anyone have to justify their right to be left in peace? Without being enticed, pressured, and cajoled by the government to do otherwise, why can’t parents educate their own children as they wish? When busybodies demand that we stick our noses uninvited into our neighbors affairs, what is wrong with telling them to mind their own business?

Thanks to modern sophists, our public education system has become a massive, complex, wasteful bureaucracy. That bureaucracy includes four independent layers of management: school boards, local governments, state governments, and the Feds.  That’s a ridiculously stupid management nightmare, and more standards and more bureaucracy will accomplish nothing except to waste more money.

Those who stand for nothing fall for anything. – Alex Hamilton (from here)

When will we ask the right questions? When we choose to stand with God, He guides us to the truth.

Proverbs 30:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.


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