Sophism is a form of Greek philosophy that valued the practical. It believed what you couldn’t touch didn’t exist. The root of the Greek world sophist comes from the Greek words for wisdom (Sophos), which was expressed at the expense emotion They believed that wisdom was cold – sort of like Vulcans in Star Trek. Eventually the word also came to mean general wisdom and in particular politics, ethics, and human affairs. Sophism was viewed as a threat to ancient Greece and the main sophist, Protagoras, was sentenced to death for his teachings. They believed his teachings removed emotion from life – and therefore made humans an anathema to the Gods.
Protagoras is possibly best known for his claim that, “Of all things the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not” or, in other words, that everything is relative to a person’s point of view based on his or her experience, judgement, and interpretation. This thought is often phrased as “everything is relative.” Aristotle recognized this as a destructive philosophy.
The sophist believe that everything is relative – this includes facts. We have seen the return of sophism – in many forms – from both sides of the political spectrum. We have moved so far from universal truths that I’m afraid we may have moved to what Aristotle and the Greeks feared. Everyone makes their own morality, their own facts, and sees everything through their own clouded point of view.
I’m not sure what can be done to bring us back to the universal truths that guided humanity through the dark times. I am sure that continuing down the everything is relative path will lead to the eventual downfall of our way of life. Every time someone decides to create their own facts or decides what is and is not “illegal” we take a step farther down that path. Laws are the foundation of our society and those laws are based on universal truths.
What are universal truths? The 10 commandments are a good starting point. You can’t choose to follow some and not others for the sake of everything is relative. We see the results of that in today’s shooting, the lies that are being told by our leadership, and the destruction of moral standards. Resist the modern sophists and lean on the universal truths – it really is our only hope.