Sophology - the word

The word "sophology" does not appear as such in ancient classical literature, and is a later coinage based on the two Greek words "sophia" (wisdom) and "logos" (study).

The earliest use of a word akin to "sophology" appears in a 15th century  manuscript by Jacobus Magnus called the "Booke of Good Condicions... Otherwyse called the Sophiloge of wysdom." This is apparently a Middle-English translation of a work by Jacques Legrand called "Livre de Bonnes Meurs" (Book of Good Manners), also called "Sophilogium." The book is in five parts, and "the first parte spekith of the vii dedely synnes and of Remedies ageyns theym." A copy of this work is in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.  Insofar as "sophiloge" and "sophilogium" deal with the topic of wisdom as a guide to life, one most assume these are the earliest known precursors to our use of the word "sophology."

Since then the word has appeared sporadically in other literary contexts  The use of the word as referring to a sort of super-science reappears in slightly altered spelling in the work of an Italian professor, Simone Corleo. In his Systema della Filosofia Universale (Rome, 1880), "sophology" is the doctrine of the sciences (or Scientia Scientiarum, as in the title of Robert Flint's 1904 book which mentions Corleo's usage of the word). 

The 19th century American anthropologist W.J. McGee used the word "sophiology" in an article he wrote, "The Trend of Human Progress," which appeared in the July, 1899 issue of the journal, American Anthropologist (Vol. I, No. 3, pp. 401-47).  McGee envisioned five major groupings of intelligent activity applied to the regulation of human affairs:  (1) esthetology (devoted to pleasure and the arts), (2) technology (industry and welfare); (3) sociology (activities uniting men or institutions); (4) philology (thought and language); and (5) sophiology (organization of knowledge or philosophies) (pp 436-37).  

But if you do a Google internet search on the word, "sophology" today, you will find mostly references to James Joyce's use of the word in Finnegan's Wake (1939).  Joyce used the expression, "the sophology of Bitchson" as a punning reference to the philosophy of Henri Bergson, the famous French philosopher.  It appears to be the first published use of the modern word, but Joyce does not appear to have meant anything further by it than this humorous reference to Bergson.

A more serious use of the word was by the eccentric and brilliant scholar, Patrick Gunkel (http://ideonomy.mit.edu/gunkel.html).  In his efforts to construct a science he called "ideonomy" (http://ideonomy.mit.edu) in order to work out a total naming scheme for every possible concept,  Patrick Gunkel correctly coined the term "sophology" to identify the "study of wisdoms"  (http://ideonomy.mit.edu/division.html).  To the best of our knowledge, he did not do any more to develop the concept after simply naming it (probably sometime in the early 1970's).  

I started using the term "sophology" as a foil for discussing the meaning of "philosophy" while teaching introductory philosophy in 1971 (at the time I thought I had invented it).  This also appears to be the intention Dr. Timothy A. Cook's has for it in his 2003 essay, "What is Philosophy?" - for use by students in his introductory philosophy class (www.ccaurora.edu/phi111177/start.htm).  But as I continued to reflect on this "sophology" neologism, it began to grow beyond its use as a mere synonym for "philosophy." The result is the essay that appears on this website, which was written in shorter pieces starting in February, 1996. 

Finally, there is the closely-related term, "sophiology," which now refers to the specialized study of biblical wisdom literature (see "Christology and Sophiology" - (http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/five.htm).  Here "sophiology" refers to "Sophia" taken as the "Holy Wisdom" or "Holy Spirit" of the Judeo-Christian trinity, and possibly related to the Gnostic doctrine of Sophia as the bride or female consort of God.  As should be clear from the "Preface to Sophology" on this website, it is not the intent of the Sophology Society to advocate any religious doctrine.

  2004 Glenn Shipley, PhD - revised 11/1/04.