Sophism : How to actually make logic abuse

sophistThose of you who have read my posts on logic, and particularly my posts on logical fallacies, should be familiar with how you can call someone out when they make fallacious or spurious arguments against you. This was my own motivation in immersing myself in the field of logic for years, the ability to become a human logic machine. This is its own reward, the ability to use reason as a rapier can be exhilarating and bring great intellectual satisfaction, however logos alone is not an effective tool for the rhetorician.

In ancient Greece there was a group of teachers that were called the sophists, they were teachers of many things but are perhaps most renowned for teaching the tools of convincing rhetoric. Depending on who you read on the topic of sophism, Plato for instance derided them for using their knowledge to their own ends rather than seeking justice and truth, you may have a different picture. The modern meaning of the term, has come to mean one who uses the tools of logic and rhetoric to deceive someone in a debate. The term “sophistry” has come to be defined as using sophisms for subtle and deceptive argumentation or reasoning.

The ethos of sophism

The character of the speaker is of high importance when engaging in sophistry. The perception of a person by another person or the audience, will influence how likely they are to fact check, or question the reasoning by the speaker. In a concrete case, a person of questionable repute, with many enemies is likely to be questioned, and exposed for a sophist due to the desire of the audience to bring forth his humiliation.

This is where you have to make a choice between being a sophist in plain sight, aiming to get to a position where the audience are aware of your predilections, yet are not conscious of them because they are used to it being part of your character. Alternatively, maintaining your cloak and dagger, and building your reputation as a robust and resolute soldier of reason, so that your stratagems and tactics will remain imperceptible. Building this character will offer you some insulation should you be caught, as a history of flawless reason, will serve to strengthen that on this one instance you made a mistake.

Simple ways to manipulate ethos is to make the most of your appearance. There is a bias called the halo effect [1] where people tend to think better of better looking people. Wearing clothes beyond your station, and having good posture adds to people’s perception of you as important. Adopting a language with an advanced vocabulary, and improving your intonation, voice tone and pronunciation will add to the perception of you as important.

The goal of your ethos is to build a presence that dissuades people from using critical judgments on your rhetoric. They key to getting away with using sophism, is to create a perception where you have plausible deniability if caught, and are rarely questioned.

The pathos of sophism

Emotion and the psychology of an audience are critical elements for the enlightened sophist. These can be used in effective ways to shroud your rhetorical maneuvers from the audiences perception. Unfortunately large groups of our species have internal workings where their emotion will override their capacity for reason, by use of simple trigger words, or vocal performance.

Gauging the psychology and internal state of an audience takes practice, once you master it, you will be able to adapt your level of sophistry to best suit both the tastes of the audience but also to avoid being revealed. Many logicians including me, have found ourselves outmatched, by an opponent engaging in faulty reasoning, pointless audience pandering and below average factual knowledge, simply because of misjudging the audience.

Presenting a string of mathematical reasoning to an audience who would rather have dental surgery than think of basic arithmetic, or engaging in a lengthy build-up of a logically coherent and factually correct death-blow, found ourselves hitting the shadow.

A sad truth, but reason and logic are not the “default state” of a human being. If it was, we would not have needed to invent the scientific method, or logic itself, to eliminate human bias and human flaws. You will get further by appealing to emotions in short-punchy, easy to remember and repeat statements that make people feel good about themselves on some level, than by writing reasoning as beautiful and coherent as the Critique of Pure Reason.

While the advice I offered under the ethos holds, it follows that as you adopt your arguments and behavior for an audience, you should also adapt your way of speaking and appearing. This is important, as an audience that perceives you as speaking down to them, or feeling like you are better than them, will be more hostile and inclined to tear you down. Using psychology and emotion to override the audiences’ critical sense and rational brains, enables you to use increasing volumes of sophistry while it remains imperceptible to them.

The logos of sophism

Logos is where sophism gains its meat and bones. The original sophists frequently used logical fallacies, elaborate structures and impressive vocabularies in order to draw a shroud over the eyes of people. The key is to engage in sophism, while remaining undetected. In the post I wrote entitled “How to abuse a Scotsman” I demonstrates some simple, yet easily detected ways to use logical fallacies both standing alone and combining multiple fallacies for greater effect.

We saw a great example of someone with great ethos and pathos, and engaging in logos that should make any adult cringe, when Sam Harris was attacked by Ben Affleck on “Real Time with Bill Maher“, with what amounted to a string of ad hominem attacks. “You’re gross and racist” he shouted, looking like he was about to break out in the equivalent to an empathic overdose, against the argument made by Harris and Maher that was backed by multiple surveys and statistics. Dr. Harris looking somewhat flabbergasted was derailed from his argument, into defending why it was not racist.

This is just another variant on the SJW “You’re a racist“, “You’re a misogynist” etc ad hominems that serve the purpose of red herrings, drawing you away from your original argument, and into defending yourself as a natural reflex. Rather than respond to your argument, they attack your character in an effort to distract you from your chain of reasoning, and to turn the audience against you.

The fallacy of misleading vividness caused Rolling Stone to print an article that did not hold up under scrutiny, and that a 5 minute fact check would have gotten thrown out. The author, a victim of her own confirmation bias and emotions, ignored the various red flags, because the story was so vivid, and confirmed what she already thought.

Using logos for sophism is surprisingly simple and straight forward. From the foundation writings I did on logic, you know that a syllogism generally contain 2 premises that lead to a conclusion. For instance:

Premise 1: All men are mortal

Premise 2: Socrates is a man

Conclusion: Therefore Socrates is moral.

The syllogism lends itself easily to manipulation, because in the spoken word validity is hard to check, and very few people are capable of checking for soundness during a live debate, unless you have the facts at hand. It is also impactful if used in conjunction with pathos and playing to audience bias.

Premise 1: Feminism is defined as working for the social, economic and political equality of the sexes.

Premise 2: Something cannot be defined as working for equality, yet work for supremacy.

Conclusion: Therefore, feminism is not working for feminine supremacy.

This may appear valid on the surface level, however both premise 1 and 2 are questionable on soundness. Premise 1 on the basis that definitions do change, and definitions of ideologies do not always reflect that ideology in practice. Premise 2 on the basis that it is actually possible to work for equality, and work for supremacy. Furthermore, the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

Utilizing transitive properties is a very effective way to persuade someone, even if the facts do not support your argument. One of the famous examples is the “Cholesterol hypothesis

Fatty foods increase your cholesterol, cholesterol causes heath disease, therefore fatty foods cause heart disease. In this case, the argument is A => B and B => C, then A => C. It does not hold, for a variety of reasons, mainly that it leaves variables unaccounted for in the research. The mathematical understanding of transitive properties is in the most basic form that if A = B, and B = C, then C must equal A.

Cognitive bias

A bias is defined as

a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned: illegal bias against older job applicants; the magazine’s bias toward art rather than photography;

There are too many forms and variants of bias to cover in a single article. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman talks about two ways of thinking in his book, system one that is fast, but prone to be inaccurate and system two which is what we normally call reason. System two, actually requires you to parse information through your brain consciously and evaluate it it using critical judgments.

The bias most people will be familiar with is known as confirmation bias, which leads to accepting information that reinforces your preconceived notion, while regarding information that contradicts your preconceived notion as less reliable. This can be used to your advantage, especially combined with sophism to engage in stealth attacks, present new information so that it is consistent with- and supports an existing belief by the person you are manipulating, then steer them in the direction you want.

The availability bias gets its power from the examples we can think of and as a result of them we construct maps in our heads that are inaccurate. This bias is what I speak of in my articles, when I saw that men and women construct different valuations of themselves in their head. When a man goes through life, he will remember his rejections most clearly, thus confirming his low self-valuation. As a woman goes through life, she will experience being hit on and being given social proof by her girlfriends, reinforcing her bias of “men are like buses”.

The story bias is an interesting one, as a species we want things to have meaning. Putting things into a story allow you to create a narrative of your choice, which if it appeals to your target, will be more powerful than the same argument presented in the form of a story. Secondly, people tend to put observations, experiences and events into a narrative that fills a function in their psyche. This is why women are prone to create elaborate “meeting” stories of how they finally settled down for their nice beta after 12 years on the carousel.

Like bias. The like bias is very simple, we tend to like people who like us. If you can put on the facade that you like someone, mirror them, build rapport and perhaps even entertain the idea of entering their frame, you can use this to your benefit like a trojan virus. Once they like you, they will be less skeptical of what you say and less critical of your ideas.


The key to becoming a strong sophist is educating yourself both on the fundamentals of rhetoric, but also the nature of human cognition and psychology. The variants of logical fallacies that can be employed is endless, but they have to be tailored to the personality you are targeting. An argument to the new can be very effective to people who perceive themselves as innovative and non-conformist, but would fall flat on someone who is a traditionalist. An argumentum ad populum would fall flat on an independent thinker, but would do wonders with conformists.

If you can, avoid direct attacks and settle for subterfuge in your strategies. Very few sophists can maintain their stealth if they get a reputation as the debater who engages in overt hostility through ad hominem attacks, or poorly concealed straw men arguments. Utilize the cognitive bias of the human mind, and present information in a manner that ensures it will be processed by emotion and system one, rather than reason and system two.

Learn the logical structures, and approaches to unlock the power to twist them to your purpose. Most of your audiences will be unable to see the more subtle fallacies, and an even smaller proportion capable of seeing structural logic errors or abuse of transitive properties. Do not accuse someone else of committing fallacies unless you already have the audience eating out of your hand. Being a hardline resolute, logician can make you appear as a bully to the feelings over fact proportion of the population, which is rapidly approaching majority.

If you have any questions, or would be interested in a post dedicated to various forms of cognitive bias let me know in the comments.

More Reading:

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

Rhetoric by Aristotle

How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic by Madsen Pirie



6 comments on “Sophism : How to actually make logic abuse

  1. A very interesting and useful post.

    I would like to ask you that does self-referentiality (cf. Gödel) disprove that A is not ~A ?


    • Thank you. In this case, => is a statement of if A leads to B, and B leads to C.

      Premise 1: Cholesterol leads to hearth disease.
      Premise 2: Fatty foods lead to cholesterol
      Conclusion: Therefore, fatty foods lead to hearth disease.

      In this case you have a faulty premise, or rather incomplete premises.


  2. […] of ethos, pathos and logos, the three cornerstones of Aristotle’s rhetoric with the aid of sophism in order to build a logical structure with the selected facts, in the interpretation that is […]


  3. […] of scholarly value, facts, reason or proven merit, their goal is to win by force. They will employ sophism on an unprecedented scale, along with a string of logical fallacies, of which the most common tend […]


  4. […] post is somewhat complimentary with information gathering and sophism. Once you aware of the irrational nature of humans, and start to view the large influence games […]


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