The term “sophist” is used to refer to a person who argues using premises that he himself knows are false. This person then tries to pass off his nonsense as truth by delivering it using eloquent speech. The most extreme of the sophists, claimed to believe that nothing is real, and that the perceived world was merely a hallucination concocted by the non-existent mind of the perceiver.

Imam Abd Al-Qahir Al-Baghdadi briefly responds to the three major ‘schools’ of sophistry in his Usul Al-Deen. The Imam writes:

The second issue pertaining to this principle, in proving [the ability to acquire] knowledge and [reaching] truth.

Our opponents on this issue are the Sophists. They are divided into groups:

The first group claimed that nothing is real, and that knowledge of things is non-existent. Such people only say this out of stubbornness. They must be dealt with by beating, disciplining, and confiscation of wealth. So if they complain from the pain, or ask for their money back, we respond: if neither you, nor your money is real, then why do you complain? And why do you ask for something that does not exist?

They should also be told: is your negation of all facts, truth? If they say yes, then they have affirmed some truth. And if they say no, we tell them: if your negation of all facts is not true, then those facts are true.

They should also be told: do you know that that there is no knowledge? If they say yes, then they have affirmed knowledge, a knower, and information. And if they say: “we do not know that there is no knowledge”, we tell them: then why have you judged that there is no knowledge, when you do not know that there is no knowledge?

The second group from them are doubters. They say: “we do not know whether or not anything is real”. If those doubt their own existence, then they belong to the first group. And if they do not doubt their own existence, then they have affirmed some truth.

The third group from them claimed that truth is subjective, that whatever anyone believes is true because this person believes it to be so, and that all beliefs are therefore true. What follows for this group, is that the world be both created and beginningless, since some people believed it to be emergent, while others believed it to be beginningless. It also follows that their belief is false, because we believe it to be so (and all beliefs are true according to them).

They should also be asked about the [the first group of] stubborn sophists. If they claim that this first group’s negation of all reality is a true belief, then they belong to the first group. And if they negate the beliefs of the stubborn sophists, then they have negated their own belief in the truth of all beliefs.

– Al-Baghdadi, Usul Al-Deen (pg. 6-7)

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