Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. One skilled in elaborate and devious argumentation.
  • n. A scholar or thinker.
  • n. Any of a group of professional fifth-century B.C. Greek philosophers and teachers who speculated on theology, metaphysics, and the sciences, and who were later characterized by Plato as superficial manipulators of rhetoric and dialectic.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. One of a class of teachers of rhetoric, philosophy, and politics in ancient Greece, especially one who used fallacious but plausible reasoning.
  • n. One who is captious, fallacious, or deceptive in argument.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. One of a class of men who taught eloquence, philosophy, and politics in ancient Greece; especially, one of those who, by their fallacious but plausible reasoning, puzzled inquirers after truth, weakened the faith of the people, and drew upon themselves general hatred and contempt.
  • n. Hence, an impostor in argument; a captious or fallacious reasoner.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. One who is skilled or versed in a thing; a specialist.
  • n. An ancient Greek philosophic and rhetorical teacher who took pay for teaching virtue, the management of a household or the government of a state, and all that pertains to wise action or speech.
  • n. Hence A captious or fallacious reasoner; a quibbler.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. any of a group of Greek philosophers and teachers in the 5th century BC who speculated on a wide range of subjects
  • n. someone whose reasoning is subtle and often specious

Etymologies

Middle English sophiste, from Latin sophista, from Greek sophistēs, from sophizesthai, to become wise, from sophos, clever.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin sophista, also sophistes, from Ancient Greek σοφιστής ("pursuer of wisdom"), from σοφίζεσθαι ("become wise"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • 29 But they disdained the language and the sciences of the Greeks; and the vain sophist, or grave philosopher, who had enjoyed the flattering applause of the schools, was mortified to find that his robust servant was a captive of more value and importance than himself.

    The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

  • There's a reason why you were called a sophist seneca...

    "The Waterboard Thrill Ride" art installation.

  • My advice then is to mistrust the sonorous catch-words394 of the sophist, and not to despise the reasoned conclusions395 of the philosopher; for the sophist is a hunter after the rich and young, the philosopher is the common friend of all; he neither honours nor despises the fortunes of men.

    On Hunting

  • Socrates pursues the same vein of thought in the Protagoras, where he argues against the so-called sophist that pleasure and pain are the final standards and motives of good and evil, and that the salvation of human life depends upon a right estimate of pleasures greater or less when seen near and at a distance.

    Philebus

  • Perhaps the vain sophist would have been incapable of producing such sentiments.]

    The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

  • All those mercenary adventurers who, as we know, are called sophist by the multitude, and regarded as rivals, really teach nothing but the opinions of the majority to which expression is given when large masses are collected, and dignify them with the title of wisdom.

    Human Traits and their Social Significance

  • They were born into the misty morning twilight of the medieval renaissance, of an age when intellectual curiosity was awakening, when philosophy, the sciences and Latin literature were studied with a lively but uncritical enthusiasm, when the rhetorician and the sophist were the uncrowned kings of intelligent society.

    Medieval Europe

  • The surging music and tremendous themes of the poet, the sweet persuasion of the sophist were a wonder and delight.

    Lore of Proserpine

  • Originally the sophist was a lover of truth; then he became a lover of words that concealed truth, and the chief end of his existence was to balance a feather on his nose and keep three balls in the air for the astonishment and admiration of the bystanders.

    Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great Philosophers, Volume 8

  • My advice then is to mistrust the sonorous catch-words (13) of the sophist, and not to despise the reasoned conclusions (14) of the philosopher; for the sophist is a hunter after the rich and young, the philosopher is the common friend of all; he neither honours nor despises the fortunes of men.

    The Sportsman

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