Sophistry - A Misunderstood Art - Part I

Sophistry! What a misunderstood word!

soph·ist·ryˈsäfəstrē/nounnoun: sophistry the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving - a fallacious argument.

That sounds like a pretty bad word. But how did it become so?

The word comes to us from Ancient Greeks - named after a group of philosophers who were called the Sophists. As described in The Story - Socrates hated the Sophists. He didn't like that they charged a fee to teach the art of Rhetoric and the persuasion that went with it.  They neglected, in his eyes, the importance of logic and truth. One of them said one thing, while another said something different. To him there were too many logical contradictions and lack of any intellectual clarity for them to claim any knowledge whatsoever.  And in this way, he was not only right but also successful in his attack on the Sophists and this is why the word has the negative connotations it does today.


But there is one key area, with enormous implications, where the Sophists were right and it's time our shared intellectual culture comes to terms with this fact.  

The Sophists were right when they insisted that Socrates, as with everyone, knows what arete or Quality is.

Because Quality is metaphysically before all descriptions of anything. Because we all  experience Quality.  Because rather - Quality is experience.

And when we make this fact an explicit intellectual assumption we can then see that things which were hard to understand are immediately made a whole lot clearer. Definitions of things which previously were very hard to understand are made clear to a point where we wonder why we never realized what was so obvious.

The idea of truth for example. Truth forming the foundation of all intellectual thought.  What is it? Why does it have so much power? Why should we prefer what's true over what's false? Why do intellectuals spend all their time finding it? What's its power?

Now try and answer those questions without using any valuation of quality. You cannot do it. I'll renounce everything I've ever written if you can show me why truth is so powerful without using an evaluation of quality. Quality is even right there in my request.  Quality is an unavoidable part of experience. It's so obvious that we immediately rush right past it and are instead interested in the truth.  This is so for historical reasons and yet somewhat ironically it's more true to say that Quality is fundamental and everything else, including truth, follows.

So the truth instead then, is high quality descriptions of experience.  Just because the Sophists may contradict each other - this isn't because any one of them is entirely wrong or they are being intentionally deceitful.  The ideas and thoughts they have, as with everyone for the most part, are for a good reason.  

Each of us gives our unique descriptions of experience.  And the better a description is, the better it describes everyone's shared experience.  Indeed, some descriptions may be better than others to the point where we can then call some low quality descriptions as 'false' and other high quality descriptions as 'true'.


Upon hearing an idea for the first time you will notice that the first impression you get is both of the quality of it in describing experience as well as how well it coheres with what you already know.  If, suddenly, whilst hearing a new idea you notice a change from a high or low evaluation to confusion - this is the point at which one of three things can occur:

  1. The new idea is worse and doesn't capture things as clearly as your current thinking.
  2. The new idea is better and actually increases your understanding of an issue.
  3. The new idea captures aspects of experience your current thinking doesn't, whilst misses key aspects of experience yours does.

Depending on the ideas, how long one reflects for, and how one artfully applies their logic - what can happen, with our varied life histories and experience, the third of these three potential scenarios occurs.   And when it does, using the Metaphysics of Quality, not only does this mean that you can use this new idea and call it true when the time is appropriate but also expand your own understanding and aim to combine both ideas into a new, better, single coherent whole.  And the way you'd do this wouldn't be just by just using logic, but again the art of intelligence with Quality as your guide.


I carefully outline above how the Sophists were right and how Quality plays a key role in our experience and intellectual thought formation because what should be obvious is entirely neglected by our current metaphysics, intellectual understanding, and the intellectuals who support it. Our current metaphysics would say the best way to determine the truth is to ignore Quality, your values, and to exclusively use logic to get to the truth.  The rules to be followed are for each interlocutor to logically argue over what's true - Quality and values be damned. But that description of reality doesn't get to the heart of our experience and so is dishonest.  And this dishonesty sadly often results in ugly and unproductive intellectual discussions whose goal is not clearly defined when the Quality and values of the two interlocutors are ignored.

Indeed this is in line with the Ancient Greek concept of Mythos over Logos.  Before the logic of an idea, so say the Greeks, there are the myths of our shared cultures that support it.  This is described by Robert Pirsig In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert Pirsig as so:

The mythos-over-logos argument points to the fact that each child is born as ignorant as any caveman. What keeps the world from reverting to the Neanderthal with each generation  is the continuing, ongoing mythos, transformed into logos but still mythos, the huge body of common knowledge that unites our minds as cells are united in the body of man. To feel that one is not so united, that one can accept or discard this mythos as one pleases, is not to understand what the mythos is.

So what then becomes of the art of Rhetoric and persuasion that was taught by the Sophists?  How do we convince others that we fully understand and know their experience and may even have a better understanding than they do - but yet also remain open enough to change ourselves?  In other words - what is the shape of a beautiful intellectual discussion?  

In the next post I hope to go into further detail on how best we can achieve this beauty in light of this better understanding.  Intellectual discussions that wouldn't have a blind adherence to logic or argumentation but with an appreciation of the reduced role of logic and an appreciation of the increased role that artful rhetoric plays in our logical understanding of the world.

It's twilight for Subject-Object Metaphysics.

'You must go do this, you mustn't do that.  Tuck your shirt in.  Get good grades. Listen to your teachers. Don't really question why you're learning anything. Don't question why one culture is one way, and another different. Don't question why you should act one way and not another. Do as we say. How does what you're learning matter to you and your life? Don't ask!  Don't question outside the curriculum.  Have a question that leads you outside it? Back luck! You're on your own and say goodbye to your grades and your life. '

These were the thoughts of a younger me. Stuck in school and no idea why I was there and what the point to it all was.  

'Why do anything, why do it? No one really has any answers.  Do it for your family - do it for your friends! But why are they doing it? What's the point? And on and on..'

This is where I was stuck.  I couldn't learn - I didn't see the point. It seemed so strange that we would go to one class, learn about one very specific subject in one very specific area on one very specific topic - and the reason? Never explained... Or explained but uncomfortably so...

'Why learn about the Ancient Egyptians? Why learn a particular type of mathematics? Why learn a particular theory of science?  And how does what we're learning affect anything? Are these just facts? Are they related to one another? What's the relationship between the Shakespeare I'm learning in one minute and the triginomotry the next?   What are we describing with our language in these classes?  Are the words we're using in these classes empty and meaningless or is there some kind of meaning behind all this that we're missing? What is the meaning? What's the point? '

There seemed to be some kind of link between everything that could be explained intellectually - there must be I thought...  

'Life isn't chaotic.  It has some kind of beautiful harmony to it.'

I could see that.  

'The beautiful expression of life of the different cultures of the world over all of history and now. It's just too poetic to be hollow and meaningless. '

And then, after hitting bottom I was given a book that beautifully answered all of these questions.   And boy did the answer to these questions go far back into our history!

Two thousand five hundred years, or there abouts, and we're only just now realizing an intellectual assumption that was made all the way back then was wrong.  This is what was called the Ghost of Reason - and it was diagnosed in the most widely read philosophy book ever.  Robert Pirsig found the cause for why there are these discrepancies and lack of explanations.  Why do things exist and why we should do anything - answers to these questions lie at the heart of a new Metaphysics outlined by Pirsig which is far more intellectually sound than our current Metaphysics. But sadly the academic community has failed to take any interest, or any of these ideas seriously.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM) was a culture changing book. Written 44 years ago - in an obituary of the Author the Financial Times wrote:

Whenever academic philosophers dismissed Zen as New-Age twaddle, Pirsig took comfort in the fact that he, not they, had earned comparisons to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Moby-Dick, works of art that reflected their times. “My prime thoughts turned out to be the prime thoughts of everybody else.”

But despite its popularity has anything really much fundamentally changed in our culture as a result of the insights found? It hasn't and it's well over time that it does!

Certainly the academic intellectual community which still has much control over the power of truth is a foundational place where the insights ought to be taken more seriously.  The antagonism from the this community as New-Age twaddle is unsurprising but disappointing.  Disappointing because philosophical insights in the book aren’t actually wrong or incorrect.

Unsurprising because for them to accept the conclusions of the book they would have to make some pretty dramatic changes.

Some of those changes that I can imagine are listed below:

  1. Each field of academic study from the first lesson would be directly linked to the Quality that creates, drives and connects everything. Fields would no longer be islands unto themselves but clearly connected to our shared experience and the improvement of quality everywhere.
  2. The curriculum would no longer be structured with a blind reliance on the value of logic and truth at the neglect of quality which underlies these things.  Instead, Quality, in all its manifestations, would be taught in an effort to shape high-minded well-rounded individuals. And that would be a Quality which isn’t fixed and defined for all time.  But continually evolving based on new evidence and experience. It wouldn't be something just assumed but could easily
  3. Academic papers would no longer necessarily be written with amoral, ‘objective’ conclusions but with moral recommendations of the best way for one to live in light of the findings.
  4. Areas of intellectual interest that have been neglected because of a disagreement on what quality or morality is and what the definitions of certain things are would be opened up to new academic inquiry. Some beginning examples are below although I can imagine this list would grow into the millions as insights are gained and things are moved forward..  
  • Supporting society and its role .
    Explicitly investigate, using the scientific method, how best does society control biological values so they are valued for what they are whilst structured so that the strength of society, and the expression of intellectual values is also supported.
  • Cultural comparisons.
    What are good cultural traits that are supported by the scientific method?
  • Celebrity and its impact on our culture.
    What values create celebrities? Are there better celebrities for us to admire?   What do celebrities of the past say about our past? What can the academic community do to foster better celebrities?
  • Scientific investigations.
    Many fields of scientific inquiry become an investigation of inorganic values rather than amoral a causes b relationships and the search for single truths.

But until and after these changes happen - I’ll continue to write about how the MOQ can be used to create beautiful insights, support intellectualism and explain many things far better than our current metaphysics.


Ancient Greece - what a vibrant amazing place. Think of white robes and stoic purity when thinking of Ancient Greece? Think again.

I love to remind myself that it was a colorful and vibrant place, full of new ideas, intellectual arguments and the beginning of the creation of our modern day scientific understanding.

Of course, it's not just the colors of the statues that were different than what we've thought for a long time. But indeed - the place of that intellectual explosion and what exactly happened all those years ago is widely misunderstood. It's time to revisit and re-understand exactly what happened all those years back then.

1024px-NAMABG-Aphaia_Trojan_Archer_1

I'll write more about this soon but for now you can read more here - The Story...


Look out! We have Ancient Greek Socratics walking amongst us! They roam the streets of the world and question anyone willing to chat about their beliefs.

Welcome to a growing phenomenon known as Street Epistemology. Just like Socrates, the adherents to this movement claim to only be interested in the truth! They strive to - at the very least - raise some serious doubts in their interlocutors mind whilst they have a friendly chat about what some of their beliefs are..

From a Metaphysics of Quality perspective this is on balance a good thing.

Encouraging people to think further about things they claim to believe in is only healthy and mostly an invitation to be a better person who is more intelligent. Encouraging intellectual thought like this is moral according to the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ).

Belief from a metaphysical sense is a very slippery word and so is not supported by the MOQ. Quality isn’t something you believe in. Quality is something you experience. And unlike anyone’s belief it can be empirically supported. Folks can’t get out of bed without deciding that it's better to do so!

That said, I think that Street Epistemologists, as with all modern day intellectuals, can improve their arguments around this so they are even more persuasive in their striving for the truth.

An illuminating part of the discussion above is where the interlocutor, Madison, is clearly taken by Anthony's intellectual honesty and is curious to know what it is that drives his pursuit for truth. The answer he provides her as the 'believer' at first doesn't seem to satisfy until he provides a very curious closing sentence.

"It's about trying to make the world a little bit of a better place."

Madison looks curious as if asking for more..

"I guess my presupposition is that the more true things that we believe - the better it will be for humanity.'

To lay this out from a Metaphysics of Quality perspective - it should be clear here firstly that Quality is indeed what is driving his pursuit of the truth in that first sentence. The second sentence is even more curious however as he appears to imply that he simply believes that things are true as well. That's Truth! Based on a belief? Where's the 'solid foundation' gone?

This seems like a simple problem that should have a simple answer but within a Subject-Object Metaphysics there is no such foundation. It is indeed only a belief that truth is fundamental and sound. And just like every other statement it is open to dialectical questioning. This is not the fault of Anthony but a clear metaphysical flaw of the Subject-Object Metaphysics from which he is operating. Of course the solid foundation of truth is Quality but he can't say that. He doesn't have the Metaphysics for it. It would for sure be interesting to have conversation with him about this. A future blog post perhaps?

In fact it would be interesting to perform Street Epistemology in much the same way as Anthony does - for the most part very skillfully - but with a key difference. And that difference would be an explicit understanding of the foundation of truth and what we are all indeed stiving for and living. Quality. A Modern day Sophist.

Metaphysics making things better - Psychology.


There's no such thing as matter. There's no such thing as the physical. There's no such thing as ideas. There's just quality. What's a good way to describe reality?

And if there's a good way - can you apply that quality to other things and find yet more quality? If something truly is good - then you would think it can pay forward like that right?

"I am kind of in the position of a theoretical mathematician who comes… you know, who has worked out a set of equations which to him look wonderful. He goes to a group of engineers and they say, "Well, what good is it? What's this going to do for us?"

Robert Pirsig to the Association of Humanisitic Psychology.

Like Pirsig - I don't claim to be a psychologist - but what I do think is that at the very least - at a very high level - the Metaphysics of Quality can start to create interesting distinctions in 'human behavior' that haven't been brought out clearly before by psychologists.

Looking at psychology from an MOQ perspective I can ask questions like - what behaviors are an unchangeable part of our biology and what of those are social? Whilst I'm sure these types of questions have been asked before - with the MOQ, we have a language with which we can discuss them and categorise them definitively and not get caught up on what exactly is social behavior and what exactly is biological behavior.

Because it provides clear distinctions like this - from there anthropologists or psychologists can also ask questions like - if they are social - do they serve their purpose in an intelligent way - or is there a better way they can be achieved? If so, then obviously because they can be changed then it's best that we do so. And from this clear cultural recommendations can be made by intellectuals on the best way to live.

Because this would be dramatically different let me repeat. Using the Metaphysics of Quality - intellectuals, could provide recommendations, based on human psychology, on the best way to live a moral life. Not just for some people in some such a culture. But for all people. Everywhere.

I think this would clearly be a dramatic improval to the way things are done now. A psychology now whose terms are not clearly philosophically defined and also importantly - whose aims are also unsure. Because more than anything - it provides us an overarching frame that everyone can get behind and grounds us all in a moral direction towards a better future.

Anyway, with this perspective from here I will be writing about psychology studies that I see that the MOQ can perhaps provide further color to and how the MOQ makes it uniquely clear that they can help us to live better lives.