Q & A
Q#1) What is a Sophist?
A#1) A teacher of Wisdom and Virtue.
Q#2) If that’s what they were (are) why are they considered disreputable?
A#2) Teaching someone to be wise and to be virtuous are the most difficult tasks imaginable. Ask a parent. Sophists taught using techniques and practices that were ancient even in Hellenic times. These methods of instruction were learned by a sort of apprenticeship with an Master or Mentor, and were derived from arcane knowledge preserved by initiates of secret orders who passed this esoteric wisdom from generation to generation. There were enclaves of these secret societies spread all over the world, considering themselves to be guardians of knowledge received during the ‘first time’, or some variant phrase meaning long ago. In Greece at that time we know of the Pythagoreans, of whom it was said that it meant death to reveal the meaning of the pentagram. In Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias, Plato states that Solon, one of the 'seven sages' of antiquity was told the story of Atlantis by Egyptian priests at the temple of Neith in Sais, located in the western Nile Delta of 'Lower' Egypt. The priests told of a land occupied by a race of men, whom had developed an advanced civilization and astounding technological achievements. Yet despite their accomplishments their island nation “sank into the sea”. All this, Solon was told, took place 9000 years earlier! Not only traditions and legends speak of advanced knowledge in antediluvian times- indisputable evidence of unexplainably advanced knowledge and technique was ‘written in stone’ at least five thousand years ago by the builders of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. I cannot convey in words how astonishing it is, in scale, and human effort, yet it’s greatness and eternal significance is in the implications of the advanced mathematics and physics incorporated into the design of the structure. This essay cannot address these issues in the depth required to allow one the necessary insight to grasp the importance of these facts. One who seeks to understand will need to obtain a number of works on the Great Pyramid and do the research. You won’t be sorry you did. The Sphinx Temple, built near the famous megalithic statue from which it takes its name, rises from the sand in front of the pyramids of the Giza plateau. The temple walls and columns were constructed from individual blocks of granite weighing as much as two hundred tons each. Until this century’s largest power cranes were invented there was no known engineering technique that could lift such a mass into place. How did the ancient Egyptians do it? No one knows. According to the archaeological record of the area (as currently known) these people were just a few hundred years from the Stone Age. Where did this knowledge and technologies come from in so short a time? The answer, I believe, will not fit the picture drawn by the eminent Egyptologists whom sit like judges over the evidence, admitting that which supports their conclusions and throwing out or ignoring the rest. These facts are offered as enticement to reconsider the possibility of hidden or lost Truths and knowledge existing in ancient times, and to suggest a revaluation of a previously unacknowledged degree of sophistication and wisdom that was represented in the Sophists, at least in the best of them.
As a group, all the great men of that time, such as Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Parmenides, etc., are referred to as the ‘Pre-Socratics’, for after Socrates, beginning with Aristotle, there was a major change in the view of many toward this ancient tradition of ‘wise men’. It represents the birth of ‘scientific thinking’ and the devaluation of the revelatory instruction, previously revered, that oracles, seers, priests, prophets, and sophists provided. This devaluation, led by Aristotle, was veiled by arguments attacking the ‘moral relativism’ of the sophists, but this was a subterfuge of those seeking to usurp their position in society. There was indeed an aspect of relativism in what some but not all sophists taught, but this was taken out of the context of a deeper, complex paradigm that was centered around an ultimate, ‘absolute’ ideal of relation to the Cosmos in the form of an absolute Godhead. The nature of this understanding of reality indeed mirrors the complexity of cosmologies today with their paradoxes and metaphors. Obviously this would create great difficulties in trying to convey this complexity to ‘laymen’. To do so actually requires the use of ‘thought experiments’ designed to allow one to see beyond the dichotomy of existence, to grasp the core unity of reality behind apparent dualism. (Those who may be skeptical of this perspective on the ‘sophistication’ of ancient thought would be ‘wise’ to read Plato’s works in their entirety before passing judgment). These ‘thought forms’, ‘teaching tools’ if you will, were as ancient as the knowledge they contained. Metaphor, simile, parable, paradox, riddles, meditation, anecdote, dialectic and rhetoric were all brought to bear upon minds closed to possibility. Minds accustomed to the norm. Minds blinded by perspective-prejudices. Just like today, like trying to convince a fundamentalist of evolution or the implications of relativity theory, it’s not an easy task. The usurper Aristotle chose to attack this tradition under the subterfuge of ‘rhetoric’, into which all the ‘non-scientific’, i.e. ‘illogical’ teaching tools of the sophists were lumped together. In place of these disavowed and dishonored techniques, Aristotle propounded dialectic and logic as the only ‘reasonable’ means of discerning truth. Insight derived from intuition and revelations were now ‘specious’, ‘irrational’, and the wisdom of old represented by the sophists had to be discredited, their ‘Rhetoric’ held up as false reasoning, their honor disparaged. Aristotle’s ultimate purpose was that their place and power over culture be usurped. Not because of what they lacked, but because of what they had. They had Truth, unsubjectable to dialectic and unfathomable by logic. It was the Truth of the Absolute behind the relative that had to be broken, crushed. Like science today, blindly refusing to admit any metaphysic, and refusing to even consider the possibility of God. The attack upon the sophists was an attack upon this truth, hiding behind the masses’ incomprehension of the moral relativism aspect of truth. By denying any possible validity to ‘rhetorical’, ‘circumambulatory’, and ‘revelatory’ techniques of comprehension the usurper sought to deny the validity, and ultimately the power, of God over men. Aristotle and his offspring, ‘atheistic’ science is the continuation of the original rebellion metaphor recorded in the Bible, of an archangel who wanted to be like God…Lucifer.
Sophists were not the evil, albeit I am sure there were plenty of ‘imposters’; and science is not evil. It is only those who deny God that propagate evil.
Q.#3) What is Rhetoric?
A.#3) It is the art of persuasive speech according to the dictionary. The keyword is ‘Art’. The sophist were known for teaching rhetoric. Why rhetoric? Was it merely to be able to out-argue an opponent in a debate? My position is that would be the least value of rhetoric to the sophists. Rhetoric as art, as in, not science. Art appeals to the emotions, science to the intellect. According to Aristotle, Art and Rhetoric therefore are of minimal value as tools for discovering truth. True, art does stir the emotions; music, poetry, sculpture, and paintings are not things that can be dialectically dissected, or ‘analyzed’ to understand their effects on people. Art goes deeper than emotions or intellect, and speaks to the very soul of a person. Art can reveal and can hide, it can inspire and it can destroy, it can heal or it can wound. It can speak to the highest in man, or the lowest. It has the power to change the world. It is not just the stirring of emotion that gives it such power. It is that art springs from the center of our being, of all being, in the act of becoming, and puts us in touch with that center of being; makes us one with it again, can make us aware of our participation in that oneness and open our eyes to the beauty of life that is often hidden by the mundane chores of corporate existence.
So rhetoric is an art, a tool, properly used, which can open your eyes to truths that science will never understand. And a proper understanding of these truths, that is called wisdom. And that is why they were called sophists.
Q.#4 ) What is Sophistics?
A.#4 ) The study of the Art (and science) of 'wisdom'.
AR – Q & A
Q. What is it?
A. Absolute Relativity
Q. Does that mean that everything is absolutely relative i.e. nothing is absolute…?
A. The opposite. It means that everything is relative to the Absolute.
Q. Why is this important?
A. It is the Key to understanding and realizing our potential, which the relationship of our sense of self and our place in the universe relies on.
Q. What is our potential?
A. Whatever we aspire to. The highest aspirations can lead us to a sacred space of completeness, peace, and joy.
Q. Why do so few people know of, or reach this place?
A. Because of ignorance and spiritual sickness.
© 2003 Thomas Theodore Welborn