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A College Student Asks for Help on Sophism

 Subject: Sophism: please help me with these questions!
 Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 07:46:26 -0500

Doug Renselle
Quantonics, Inc.
1950 East Greyhound Pass, Ste 18, # 368
Carmel, INdiana 46033-7730
 Organization:  Quantonics

Hi Student,

Thanks for taking time to write to us. We appreciate it.

First, I am not an expert on Sophism. I, like you, am a student of

Second, it will not do you any good in your learning process if someone
else does the hard work for you. That is what learning is about...doing
the hard work. You've probably heard that countless times from Mom and
Dad, and your teachers.

Given that, I'll help a bit, just a bit.

You sent this in your email:

"The Sophists tended to be:

a) skeptical in matters of knowledge
b) inclined to view thought and language primarily as instruments of
c) relativistic in matters of morality and politics.

Explain what is meant by each of these features of Sophism, and also explain
how they were related to the history, especially the political history of the times."

The Sophists, as I understand it, believed in aretê. They lived aretê.

In my opinion, they were not Cultural Relativists, nor were they
Aristotelians. They preceded the Aristotelians for about 12.5
millennia. Along came Parmenides who believed substance and stasis were
the core of reality. Plato, Socrates, and then Aristotle picked up on
this and created what we call the Subject-Object Metaphysics which
divides reality into the substantial (objects) and the insubstantial
(subjects). Essentially, SOM says, "If it isn't an object, it isn't
real." That S-O dichotomy is the foundation of the concept of truth
over value

Plato, Aristotle, et al., built a straw man of Sophism. Why? They felt
like they had to destroy it so their new SOM could take its place.

Sophism's aretê is about value over truth. The Aristotelians used the
straw man and their new-born idea of truth over value to beat up on the
Sophists. Most of Western culture is still doing that today. (Read
Aristotle and see the countless occurrences of Sophist denigration.)

Our site is about Robert M. Pirsig's new philosophy, the Metaphysics of
Quality. It is much like Sophism. Thus it is denigrated by many in
Western Culture today. But guess what? MoQ aligns almost perfectly
with quantum science! Thus, in a sense, it is verified by the new
science, where SOM and CR are not!

Let's compare the three basic Western philosophies in place today:

SOM assumes a single objective truth for all reality, and presumes it
can know absolute truth. It assumes the unknown does not exist.

MoQ assumes absolute (quantum) change [equals good], and that
each of many truths is relative to its own local context. It assumes
the unknown exists.

Sophism's aretê is closest to MoQ. So is quantum science! Sophism
aligns more closely with quantum science than SOM!


a) Sophists 'many truths' made them skeptical of knowledge
b) Sophists instruments of persuasion practiced rhetoric (the
good/aretê) vis-à-vis Aristotelians introduced and practiced dialectic
propositional logic dependent upon SOM's objective substance.
c) Aristotelians confuse morality and politics with truth and thus use
logical dialectic to discuss them. Sophists see morality and politics
as rhetorical issues, whose goodness may be assessed, but not whose
truthfulness may be assessed.

Truth-over-Value confuses the Aristotelians and the Cultural

Value-over-Truth clears the minds of the Sophists/MoQites.

On our site, read:


It is fairly long, but it will give you Pirsig's historical perspective
of SOM's initial endeavors to denigrate sophism.

Also check out our Map of a New Reality. It shows SOM as a tiny subset
of a much larger reality which the Sophists perceived and the
Aristotelians forced not to exist. See:


Hope this helps, Student!

The world is moving to a new philosophy now. It is MoQ-like.
Understand it, so you can decide if you want to join the bandwagon or,
hopefully not, fight it.

Odds are your professor is an Aristotelian, so be careful how you use
this material. Aristotelians are implicitly blind to the new philosophy.

Many truths to you,


Doug Renselle
In Quantonics

"Truth is an agent of its own change."

Doug Renselle, 23Jan1999
(Reflections on Frank A. Schierenberg's and Matt Workman's questions
about Quantonics.)


To contact Quantonics write to or call:

Doug Renselle
Quantonics, Inc.
1950 East Greyhound Pass, Ste 18, # 368
Carmel, INdiana 46033-7730

©Quantonics, Inc., 1999-2009 Rev. 9Dec2007  PDR Created: 31Mar1999  PDR
(7Mar2001 rev - Add link to our new MoQ, CR, & SOM comparison table.)
(19Dec2001 rev - Add top of page frame-breaker.)
(22Jun2002 rev - Alter title color.)
(27Oct2005 rev - Adjust colors, title size.)
(10Dec2006 rev - Remove old email link. Adjust colors. Slightly adjust format and dates.)
(9Dec2007 rev - Reformat slightly.)