How Sophistry Really Does Things With Words


Sophistic discourse is the paradigm of a form of discourse that does things with words. It is not a “performative” in Austin’s sense; rather, it is really a discourse that makes, transforms, or creates the world. The relation with performativity is even more appealing given that epideixis, the word that designates sophistic discourse, cannot be rendered in a better form than with “performance.” In order to clarify how one should understand linguistic performance, this essay presents a tour void of any particular concern with boundaries between epochs, places, literary genres, or disciplines. 1) We begin with ancient Greece, with the primary scene of Parmenides and Gorgias, where one can understand the difference between truthful discourse and discourse “that makes.” 2) We then move to South Africa at the end of the last century and look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose effect, as it is examined and thematized, is a making by way of words. 3) We finally arrive at the “here and now,” at the Vocabulaire Européen des philosophies: Dictionnaire des intraduisibles, whose Humboldtian ground is the difference among the worlds that different languages produce, the impact of the fact of linguistic plurality on discursive perfrormance.

How Sophistry Really Does Things With Words

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