soph·​ist·​ry | \ ˈsä-fə-strē How to pronounce sophistry (audio) \
plural sophistries

Definition of sophistry

1 : subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation

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Sophistry Has Roots in Greek Philosophy

The original Sophists were ancient Greek teachers of rhetoric and philosophy prominent in the 5th century B.C. In their heyday, these philosophers were considered adroit in their reasoning, but later philosophers (particularly Plato) described them as sham philosophers, out for money and willing to say anything to win an argument. Thus sophist (which comes from Greek sophistēs, meaning "wise man" or "expert") earned a negative connotation as "a captious or fallacious reasoner." Sophistry is reasoning that seems plausible on a superficial level but is actually unsound, or reasoning that is used to deceive.

Examples of sophistry in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The explanation is that the opponents of the law are blinded by a sort of opportunistic sophistry. Amy Davidson Sorkin, The New Yorker, "Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Vote May Save Obamacare This Time," 10 Nov. 2020 The lawsuit is an exercise in legal sophistry with potentially grave consequences. Jon Healey, Star Tribune, "Digging further into the debate wreckage: Trump still has no health care plan to offer," 2 Oct. 2020 After such smug sophistry, Stevenson and McMillan do a brotherly fist bump that Cresson clumsily frames behind a pitcher of water. Armond White, National Review, "Just Mercy Proves Art Is Not Activism," 24 Jan. 2020 There was an irresistible force of logic, a clinching power of argument, and a manly disregard of everything like sophistry... John J. Miller, WSJ, "‘Lincoln’s Confidant’ Review: The Friend Who Listened," 15 Feb. 2019 Like pretty much everything Hof says, the hard line between what is science and what is sophistry is slippery. Rachel Sugar, Bon Appétit, "I Tried the Wim Hof Method to Find Happiness Through Suffering," 28 Oct. 2019 No doubt the sophistries of elite Charlestonians, so thoroughly intertwined with the defense of Jim Crow, were becoming clear to Waring as well. Joseph Crespino, WSJ, "‘Unexampled Courage’ Review: Showing America the Way," 18 Jan. 2019 Some complain soccer is a chintzy distraction from the sophistry of our ruling classes. Sean Williams, The New Republic, "England’s World Cup Team: the Anti-Brexit," 10 July 2018 The guys, in the case of Joan, are formidable opponents: a king, an archbishop and a selection of the power elite of medieval France and England whose weapons are religion and sophistry. Toby Zinman,, "What a Broadway weekend!: 'St. Joan' and 'My Fair Lady'!," 27 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sophistry.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of sophistry

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of sophistry was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Sophistry.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for sophistry



English Language Learners Definition of sophistry

: the use of reasoning or arguments that sound correct but are actually false
: a reason or argument that sounds correct but is actually false

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