Sophistry: The Powers of the False
The fifth event in an ongoing series of symposia titled “Conjuncture: 21st Century Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Politics,” coordinated by Nathan Brown & Petar Milat
Barbara Cassin, Ray Brassier, Alexander García Düttmann, Alberto Toscano, Julie Beth Napolin, Sami Khatib, Alexi Kukuljevic, Tzuchien Tho
Since Plato, the conflict between philosophy and sophistry has been a primary schema for distributing the relation between the true and the false. Sophism, writes Barbara Cassin, haunts philosophy—and like a ghost, a revenant, it continues to return in new guises. From Pyrrhonian skepticism to modern empiricism, historical materialism, Nietzschean genealogy, psychoanalysis, the linguistic turn, deconstruction, and non-philosophy, the inheritance of sophistry is the undercurrent of philosophical authenticity, the shadow cast by the light of truth, the tain of the mirror of nature.
If sophistry is one among the names assigned to the powers of the false, then its operations and traditions are also an important locus for addressing those powers as co-constitutive of the true. To approach sophistry from this perspective is not to indulge relativism. It is simply to think the field of resistance within which the true is produced and the discursive entanglements through which the true and the false function precisely as powers. To think through sophistry today is not only to grapple with the difficult discursive demands always confronting philosophical rationality, but also to account for the polis in which those are situated—to account for the politics and the political economy of the philosophical reflection.
Our symposium will take up sophistry not only as a matter of historical concern but also contemporary contestation: as one way to think through not only the relation between the true and the false, but also the “ancient” and the “modern,” not only the philosophical past but also the future of philosophy.