Harmless, Useless Sophistry

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers  [Chrysippus] 7.7

“If someone is in Megara he is not in Athens. If a body is in Megara there is nobody in Athens. If you say something, then something moves through your mouth. So, you say “wagon”. And then a wagon moves through your mouth. Also, if you did not lose anything, then you have it. You never lost horns, so you have horns.” Some say Euboulides said this.”

“εἴ τίς ἐστιν ἐν Μεγάροις, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν Ἀθήναις· ἄνθρωπος δ᾿ ἐστὶν ἐν Μεγάροις· οὐκ ἄρ᾿ ἐστὶν ἄνθρωπος ἐν Ἀθήναις.” καὶ πάλιν· “εἴ τι λαλεῖς, τοῦτο διὰ τοῦ στόματός σου διέρχεται· ἅμαξαν δὲ λαλεῖς· ἅμαξα ἄρα διὰ τοῦ στόματός σου διέρχεται.” καί· “εἴ τι οὐκ ἀπέβαλες, τοῦτ᾿ ἔχεις· κέρατα δ᾿ οὐκ ἀπέβαλες· κέρατ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔχεις.” οἱ δ᾿ Εὐβουλίδου τοῦτό φασι.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 45.8

“Again, the one who is asked whether he has horns is not so foolish as to search his own brow nor also so incompetent or limited that you may persuade him that he doesn’t know this with that most sophisticated logic. These kinds of things deceive without harm in the same way as the dice and cup of a juggler in which the deception itself entertains me. But explain how the trick works, and I lose my interest. I say that same thing about these word tricks, for by what name might I better call sophistries? They are harmless if you don’t understand them, and useless if you do.”

Ceterum qui interrogatur, an cornua habeat, non est tam stultus, ut frontem suam temptet, nec rursus tam ineptus aut hebes, ut ne sciat tu illi subtilissima collectione persuaseris. Sic ista sine noxa decipiunt, quomodo praestigiatorum acetabula et calculi, in quibus me fallacia ipsa delectat. Effice, ut quomodo fiat intellegam; perdidi usum. Idem de istis captionibus dico; quo enim nomine potius sophismata appellem? Nec ignoranti nocent nec scientem iuvant.

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Bronze head of a Philosopher from a shipwreck near Antikythera

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