Sophistry and/or Philosophy? Two Models of Teaching Learning

As university teachers, are we heirs to the Sophists or Socrates the philosopher? Or might there be a way to transcend this binary?

Sophistical teaching aims to pass on institutional know-how to learners, for example, academic ethics and strategies like study skills that offer shortcuts to institutional competence; it seeks to produce efficient knowledge-workers. Philosophical teaching aims to draw forth knowledge from students, that is, to elicit wisdom and develop ethos (Gk. character), or fidelity to a way of thinking; it seeks to produce good citizens. Do we teach a skill or a good? Are we insiders offering the keys to the institution or mentors nurturing our apprentices—or mentees?

A way beyond this unfortunate binary might draw on Carol Dweck’s distinction between a “fixed” and a “growth mindset” or “self-theory” in learners. Learners of the former group believe their success is based on innate ability (they are “naturals”); those of the latter group believe their success is based on hard work and learning (it can be nurtured). To extrapolate, Dweck offers us a way to have the best of both worlds, sophistical and philosophical. As Trei (2007) writes, “[Her] research showed how changing a key belief—a student’s self-theory about intelligence and motivation—with a relatively simple intervention can make a big difference.” By making a sophistical intervention in a student’s learning process, for example, passing on a study skill to them, we might change a key belief or “self-theory” and thereby enable a student’s philosophical growth.

Lisa Trei. (2007). Fixed versus growth intelligence mindsets: It’s all in your head, Dweck says. Retrieved Aug. 24, 2009, from

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.


One thought on “Sophistry and/or Philosophy? Two Models of Teaching Learning

  1. I didn’t know how useful sophistry was supposed to be to me, before I began to understand that it’s primarily use is to get my own way before it’s too late to care anyway… Now (say, just for sake of argument), why not go to: , where you may (or may not be) suitably enlightened…

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