Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

SOPHIST.

A geometrician, a little severe, thus addressed us one day: There is nothing in literature more dangerous than rhetorical sophists; and among these sophists none are more unintelligible and unworthy of being understood than the divine Plato.

The only useful idea to be found in him, is that of the immortality of the soul, which was already admitted among cultivated nations; but, then, how does he prove this immortality?

We cannot too forcibly appeal to this proof, in order to correctly appreciate this famous Greek. He asserts, in his “Phædon,” that death is the opposite of life, that death springs from life, and the living from the dead, consequently that our souls will descend beneath the earth when we die.

If it is true that the sophist Plato, who gives himself out for the enemy of all sophists, reasons always thus, what have been all these pretended great men, and in what has consisted their utility?

The grand defect of the Platonic philosophy is the transformation of abstract ideas into realities. A man can only perform a fine action, because a beauty really exists, which is its archetype.

We cannot perform any action, without forming an idea of the action — therefore these ideas exist I know not where, and it is necessary to study them.

God formed an idea of the world before He created it. This was His logos: the world, therefore, is the production of the logos!

What disputes, how many vain and even sanguinary contests, has this manner of argument produced upon earth! Plato never dreamed that his doctrine would be able, at some future period, to divide a church which in his time was not in existence.

To conceive a just contempt for all these foolish subtilties, read Demosthenes, and see if in any one of his harangues he employs one of these ridiculous sophisms. It is a clear proof that, in serious business, no more attention is paid to these chimeras than in a council of state to theses of theology.

Neither will you find any of this sophistry in the speeches of Cicero. It was a jargon of the schools, invented to amuse idleness — the quackery of mind.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25