Stephen M. Llano, Ph.D.

Stephen M. Llano, Ph.D.

What is a Sophist?

"Sophist" is the name for a group of ancient Greek teachers of persuasion, speech, argument, and rhetoric. Although they did not formally associate under this name, Plato in his many dialogues called their practice "sophistry" - a word we associate today with lies, trickery, and deceit. This is a misnomer that Plato created in order to promote his own pedagogy against the popular lessons of the Sophists.

The Sophists of ancient Athens served many valuable functions, most notably teaching their students how to communicate effectively in a democracy, how to articulate problems and their potential solutions to fellow citizens, and how to manage their own affairs of negotiating meaning, value, care, and attention with their neighbors and friends.

The lessons of the Sophists are more valuable than ever in a world where strict devotion to facts and truths generated by ideological belief overshadow situational judgement based on context, timing, and the people involved. Sophistic thought is critical thinking based on the moment in front of us rather than the ideology behind us.

Sophists value uncertainty, doubt, questions, and audience, realizing that the best and most convincing texts are always generated with these principles in mind. We co-create the arguments that persuade us, and we co-create the arguments we use to motivate others to support us.

Professor Llano practices his modern sophistry in his university teaching, his writing and publication on this page, and in his outreach and consulting work.