Sunday 1 April 2007


Since I picked my website name from some ancient Greeks I suppose it's a good idea to explain what the name means and why I picked it.

The name is the Greek name for the group known in English as Sophists (see the Wikipedia entry for an in-depth explanation) from the 4th century B.C. Why I went Greek was simple: I run out of ideas and I was in a hurry to come up with a good domain name because I was about to loose my old ( or, rather, it would have cost too much to keep it. I had toyed with all sorts of ideas from books and music I like to all other sorts and just couldn't come up with a good name. Finally I picked up Svante Nordlin's book on history of philosophy ("Filosofian historia" / "Filosofins historia") which is a very enjoyable and easy reading book on a very complex and difficult subject. I browsed through the part on Greek philosophy because I had figured it would be the area to focus on writing down potential words to use. I came up with a short-list and removed all that were already reserved. Out of the ones not reserved I liked the implications and semantics associated with the word "sofistes".

Sofistes were originally a group of men who taught the art or science of wisdom and knowledge. Originally the name simply meant "teacher of wisdom". Sofists were generally considered people who questioned existing paradigms.

But picking the name based on that would seem rather pompous and that's not why I chose it either although I have to say I feel I would have been at home among the sofists as I like to argue and question things as well.

However, the reputation of the sofists isn't quite as nice. Their methods of argumentation weren't always spotless and the image that has been portrayed to us was mostly written by their critics such as Platon who had a strong dislike for the group. He basically called them conmen among other things. This was partly because Platon disagreed with their philosophy and partly because of the way they argued others which was quite annoying. The classical "Have you stopped beating your wife yet" originates, I believe, from sofists (and the correct answer is to that question is, naturally, "mu", unless you really do beat or used to beat your wife ). No wonder a lot of people got annoyed.

Then again, I sometimes like to ask annoying questions from people, especially from pretentious, smug and/or self-loving people. There are lots of people who are very certain they are right and go to any lengths to argue their viewpoint without as much as consider any alternative viewpoints.

So, the domain name can be read in two different ways and everyone can make their own mind up on whether I occasionally write sense or if I'm just an annoying git. But I do think it's important to question paradigms because they can be dangerous. Wars have been started because the people in charge or in position of power have managed to plant certain paradigms in peoples minds. For instance, once people have been convinced something nasty simply has to be done a lot of people will go lengths to defend those actions which they never would have done before. This can include using weapons of mass destruction on others, something which seems to be boiling below the surface. Little by little a lot people have been convinced it might be necessary to drop a nuclear weapon in Iran, for instance. All of the actions taken to fight terrorism is another example. Some things done in the name of the war on terror are way over the top and still relatively few people complain about them.

People should simply ask more often if what they believe in is the truth or if there are alternative viewpoints that might be at least as truthful or even more so. One of the most common is how entire races or other groups of people are labeled. This is easy because people are naturally at least a little xenophobic. So telling them that people of a certain nationality are dirty and dishonest goes easily down on lots of people at least if you repeat it often enough. Anti-semitism is a perfect example of this behaviour. Contemporary version is to label all Muslims as crazy fanatics who only want to kill all Westerners. Unfortunately there are lots of people who believe there is no point in having a dialogue with them and as there are Muslims who feel the same about us Westerners there are clashes and people get killed. What we should do is to have a dialogue with the moderates and marginalize the extremists but this is hard because the extremists are prepared to do anything to stop it. What you should ask is whether you want another global war just sixty years after the previous one that cost tens of millions of people was waged.

As an anecdote a student of Protagoras argued that he would only pay for the teachings once he had won his first court case. Protagoras replied by saying that in that case he would take the student to the court. If he wins, the student would have to pay because the student lost and if he looses, the student has to pay because he won.

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