Sophistry vs Philosophy

The roots of sophistry go back to Greek times and are attributed to Socrates, Aristotle and the plays of Plato. At the time it was known as the Art of Teaching and it’s name derives from wisdom. Although it somewhat incorporated philosophy, it has always had a bad reputation because it fails to teach virtue. Sophism has always dominated politics, the formation of democracy, and the teaching methods in schools.  It is still very much the dominant force today, but in modern times is known as the Art of Deceiving.

A sophism is a specious argument for displaying ingenuity in reasoning or for deceiving someone. A sophist is a person who reasons with clever but fallacious and deceptive arguments.

In contract to sophistry, philosophy also refers to a body of knowledge and the search for knowledge. In my mind, it is it’s overriding truth seeking that sets it apart from sophistry. Why is this important to the understanding of climate change? For the simple reason that much about the argumentation in public discourse on Climate Change is full of sophisms. For example how many of the following have you seen?

  • Ad hominem – Insulting someone’s character which is the typical conversational starter, beginning with calling people Deniers, who are really just skeptical and may actually know better what is going on.
  • Straw man – Over simplifying one’s argument
  • Bandwagoning – Asserting that everyone agrees, in particular 97% of scientists!
  • Shifting the burden of proof  – I need not prove my claim, you must prove it is false.
  • Correlation proves causation – A faulty assumption that because there is a correlation between two variables that one caused the other.

Yet we know that any scientific claim must be supported through observation and experimentation, not a bunch of fallacious arguments. Furthermore, all the alarm is about projected future changes which are themselves just another claim.





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