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Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

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published on November 17, 2015

John Rist
DOI: 10.5840/acpaproc2015111623

Philosophers and Sophists: Then and Now

I attempt here to draw parallels between ancient and modern sophistry —and ancient and modern philosophy. Plato at one point identified a sophist as a paid hunter of rich young men who ‘lurks’ in non-being: that is, has no concern for truth. In more modern times Elizabeth Anscombe, when asked what her philosophical colleagues did, remarked (note the ironic Platonic echo) that they spend most of their time corrupting the youth. And the present situation in many liberal universities encourages them to do so—and in the humanities more generally, not only in philosophy. By the time a PhD candidate has completed his doctorate, joined a department and eventually got tenure, he will in many cases have become a practised sophist, equipped with what often amounts to a PhD in rationalizing, that is, in sophistry. I wonder whether we ought not to do something to change some of that.