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Si hoc signum legere potes, operis boni in rebus Latinus alacribus et fructuosis potiri potes!
(Paul Signac. Portrait of Félix Fénéon, etc. Source)
How does one become a "Sophist", i.e. a pseudo-philosopher? I'll try to present you a simple and efficient method, based on the pseudo-philosophers I've met or read so far (like Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Patch Adams, Albert Jacquard, Marshall McLuhan, Rosemarie Rizzo Parse, Ludwig Wittgenstein, etc.).
The sophist's goal is to become rich and famous, or in any case, his goal isn't first and foremost to acquire wisdom. He wants the advantages of wisdom, without the disadvantages. He must therefore use "tricks" to give the impression he's wise. We'll try to expose four of them:
- low moral standards
- the "meta-English" language
- "new novelty"
Nobody is a prophet in his own land. Imagine a sophist who would have trouble making ends meet, who'd go to the bathroom just like everybody, who'd talk like everybody, etc. We know that people who lead such lives are just like us, i.e. quite ordinary! So the sophist must absolutely avoid this identification, using exoticism. Here are a few "tricks" to appear different from everybody else:
3.1) Invent for yourself an exotic lifestyle. Travel in uncommon countries, lead an excentric life. If you can mingle with apparently exotic people, you can always claim that you were influenced, that these people transmitted to you something rare and incomprehensible for the non-initiated.
3.2) Get an exotic schooling. For example, become a Nobel prize in Physics or Chemistry. These days, Science is a "land far, far away", inaccessible to many people. At the very least, try to have touched the ham sandwich Elvis Presley took a bite out of. In other words, say that you studied in the same university where the famous Martin Heidegger or the famous Edmund Husserl once taught, etc.
3.3) Speak, or at least read exotic languages. You have to make your audience feel "the great intellectual distance" between them and you. The choice of an exotic language often gravitates toward German, but Chinese will probably become more popular. If you're hopeless with languages, at least learn to mumble a few famous quotes ("Das wesen des daseins leigt in seiner existenz", or "Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur", etc.).
Normally, it's better to have low moral standards (not explicitly, of course), since the majority of persons are far from perfect, and are still hampered by remnants of a moral conscience. You can become very popular by calming those worries.
If you start to condemn the faults of the people who pay you, you won't become rich! You can always condemn some evils, but only if these bad things are outside the control of your audience. For example, you can condemn "the Big Bad Pharmaceutical Companies", or the "nasty terrorists from Al Qaeda", but don't ever condemn the evil actions which are prevalent in your audience, like cheating on your Income Tax Return, or unmarried cohabitation, or having illegal copies of software and music, etc.
A sophist must speak the same language as his audience, so he'll be at least a bit understood, but he must also avoid speaking the same language as his audience, otherwise people will clearly see he's not wise!
That's one of the main difficulties in being a sophist: you have to make yourself understood, but not too much! Here are a few "tricks" to accomplish this:
5.1) Learn Greek and Latin. Picking your nose won't impress anybody, but having "a covert naso-digital interaction" always makes an impression!
5.2) Make up new words with prefixes and suffixes. If you speak good old English, you won't be able to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. But if you speak "meta-English", which is a "trans-cultural" and "para-philosophical" language, then the crowds will acclaim you!
5.3) Periphrase about the bush. You must avoid like the plague words like "truth", "evil", "God", etc. Those words are like so many slaps in the face that can make your audience snap out of hypnosis. For example, say "a theoretical structure open to transcendence", rather than "a non-Atheistic Philosophy". Or, "clarify misconceptions" rather than "search for the truth", etc.
5.4) Be a "period-pincher". Make long sentences. Stretch the reader's attention. Keep the subject far from the predicate, otherwise people might notice your assertion is false.
5.5) Polish your style. You have to attract flies with honey. You have to speak well, poetically. If the style of your writing is fascinating, people will have less attention to give to your lack of substance.
5.6) Use verbal inflation. See among others Verbal Inflation and Impoverished Thought.
5.7) Stir emotions, and lie boldly. Most people couldn't care less about the facts, as long as what you say makes them feel good.
To become a rich and famous pseudo-philosopher, you must not be the guardian of a tradition. You have to be an explosion of creativity, an "Omega Point" in the intellectual history of mankind, a new novelty, original, unique and never seen before.
Don't forget that a good sophist is a marketing expert. What do marketing experts do to increase sales? They change the label, by adding "New and Improved!" It works every time!
How can you invent a new pseudo-philosophical theory? Here's a cookbook recipe which has already worked for several famous sophists:
6.1) Hide tradition behind your ego or something. There is a philosophical tradition that has been going on for thousands of years, the "Philosophia Perennis", but don't ever mention its existence! (See among others All Philosophers Contradict Each Other!). Don't put a bibliography in your book. If you do mention the existence of other philosophers, at least try to hide Aristotle and saint Thomas Aquinas. If some subversive student has already mentioned their existence, declare without proof that they're obsolete, then quickly change the topic of the conversation.
6.2) Choose a fashionable topic. Don't forget that your goal is to create a philosophical fad, then "milk" it like a cash cow. You need a certain amount of flair to find a popular topic. For example, conflict resolution is quite palatable these days, since all around us we see arguments, wars, power struggles, etc.
6.3) Trash-talk existing theories. Suppose for example you've decided to invent a new theory about negotiations. A negotiation can be well conducted, or not, but don't say this to your audience. Rather, describe a bad negotiation, while at the same time presenting it as being "the traditional theory about human relations".
6.4) Invent your new theory. To continue with our example using negotiation, invent "conflict partnership". Describe a good negotiation, but don't call it "a good negotiation"! Claim everybody before you just didn't get it, and that you've discovered "conflict partnership", THE NEW NOVELTY in conflict resolution.
6.5) Find a unique name for your theory. A bit like web sites that need a unique domain name so we can find them on the Internet, a sophist must have a unique theory name. Chose it carefully, since it's part of your brand image. For example, "Neurophilosophy" (the bad old philosophical error of Materialism, but with a New and Improved name!). Or "critical thinking" (i.e. Logic). Or "Emotional Intelligence" (excellent oxymoron, with on top of that an incorrect definition of intelligence underpinning it), etc.
6.6) Establish your theory on an absurd base. A bit like a high mountain whose summit is always hidden by clouds, your sophistic theory must hide its foundations, to avoid being compromised. The "intellectual smoke grenade" is simply to deny the Principle of Non-contradiction. Suppose your new Science is called "Scoobydoo-ology". We know a "round square" is absurd. So you could say that "the right angles of the Scoobydoo can be found in its roundness". In fact, in this very text, I've already quoted a famous "philosopher" who says such silly things. Did you notice it? Here is another example, taken from the novel The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco: "The only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from the insane passion for the truth". [quoted in: Ratzinger, Josef. Truth and Tolerance, San Francisco, Ignatius, 2004, p. 186].
6.7) Gently stroke the pride of your audience so they'll believe this foundation of your theory. You can say things like: "To clearly understand the foundations of this theory, you need great intelligence as well as a very open mind", etc. In other words, assert that the Emperor's New Clothes are made of such a lofty and dignified fabric, that only geniuses can see it. Since pride is an almost universal vice, your rhetorical argument will probably work.
6.8) Connect all your assertions to this foundation. Once your theory is established, all you need to say is that it's the foundation of your whole doctrine. Since this foundation "exists", the Principle of Non-contradiction doesn't exist, so you can infer anything from anything else. The audience can never come back to your principles to validate your assumptions, since this foundation is hidden behind a smokescreen, and this foundation is "true", as the hearer's pride can testify.
Of course, in real life, even the worse pseudo-philosophers can say great truths, and even the wisest of the wise can make mistakes. It's not because sophists exist, that therefore all thinkers are either totally good or totally bad!
That being said, the History of Philosophy (as well as the examination of today's fashionable "thinkers") unfortunately shows us that sophists exist, and that they cause great harm to mankind.
Socrates is considered to be the "Father of Philosophy", not really because he made great philosophical discoveries, but because he fought against sophists, i.e. the assassins of true Philosophy. Sophists claimed they were wise, Socrates claimed he was ignorant. Sophists asked for a salary in exchange for their knowledge, Socrates taught for free. Sophists spoke in a fancy and scholarly way, Socrates used simple words. Sophists changed their doctrines to please their masters, Socrates chose to die for the truth.
Let's not be afraid of imitating Socrates. It doesn't pay as well, but it's more edifying!
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