8 thoughts on “Socrates’s evaluations”

  1. Excellent dialogue. The author really captures the sort of argument strategy old Soc typically employs. I think, though, when it comes to the part about education, Soc would probably ask whether all people are capable of being well-educated – or whether, like craftsmen, some are inclined toward eductation (while others aren’t). He thought not everyone is equally capable. But is it clear that the best political leaders are the ones with the best education?


  2. Huenemann points to a very challenging issue raised by Plato’s Socrates. I would press the matter even harder than Huenemann. I am pretty convinced that Plato’s Socrates has a very esoteric view of the philosophical life, so not only should we wonder if “all people” are capable of being well-educated — we should ask if even very many people are capable of being well-educated. Or, to spin it another way, we should ask whether or not it is a good idea from the point of view of the health of the polis for the many (the “hoi poloi) to be well-educated even if they could. That is, should philosophy be considered a “universal calling”?
    Here is why I find this so challenging:
    1) If Plato’s Socrates is right, we might then wonder if it is irresponsible for us to teach philosophy in a university setting where the many have access to philosophical inquiry. While the few might become wise, Plato’s Socrates (at least the one from the Republic) would surely argue that teaching philosophy to the many is not only irresponsible – it is unjust (to use the definition of “not meddling” found in the Republic) from the point of view of the polis and destructive from the point of view of the particular soul (for they would inevitably misuse argument and, to use Plato’s words, become “like puppies pulling and tearing with their teeth until the they lose interest” and would end up believing nothing (not even true opinion)).
    2) Of course, the moment one asks that question they must – if they have even a shred of humility – accuse oneself. Should I be studying philosophy? Am I one of the “select” (is my soul, to use the language of the Republic, one of the “gold” ones)? For my part, I worry that I have a rusty old bronze soul!!


  3. I don’t think bronze rusts, sir. But anyway, my sense is that we might distinguish two kinds of “learning Philosophy” present in the academy. One kind might more aptly be called “learning about Philosophy” – gaining recognition of names, schools of thought, history of ideas, and so on. The other kind is “learning how to do Philosophy,” which is harder and rarer. It’s even hard to characterize. Impressionistically: it is a matter of taking Philosophy’s problems as one’s own, and exercising one’s whole heart and mind in tackling them with honesty, authenticity, and intelligence. Not many are able or willing to do this, though I am not sure that this is an unfortunate thing. (If everyone were really doing Philosophy, what would be the state of the world?) Maybe the distinction is like the one between those who love to read great literature, and those who are able to have a hand in crafting it. And the world needs great readers as much as it needs great writers. Or these are the thoughts with which I content my greenish, copper soul, at any rate!


  4. I would like to address the point being made in the argument concerning the freedom of the people. After having read the argument I was equally impressed by its persuasiveness as I was distressed my its meaning. Socrates makes a very good point in concluding that democracy is not real and does not provide more than an artificial freedom to appease the crowds. However, the founding of an aristocracy would leave the people no less free in than in the democracy. In the end, all the decisions are made in advance by a select few no matter which system we choose to follow. Now this is my point: the whole dialog screams the question “does true freedom exist?”

    What are your thoughts?


  5. There may be different senses of “freedom” at issue. The liberal notion of freedom is “being able to do whatever I want without hurting anyone else.” It may be that democracy is the best (or least worst) at allowing this kind of freedom, though one also needs a kind of safety clause (such as the Bill of Rights) to keep the minority safe from the tyranny of the majority. I think this kind of freedom really does exist, and it can be found in greater or lesser degrees in different places.

    But Soc seems interested in a different sense of freedom, which is “being free from various tyrannies – including the tyranny of my own desires.” It is in this sense that education is supposed to bring freedom, since we are supposed to get a clearer idea of what is in our best interest and how we should live. I don’t know whether this freedom exists. I guess it does at some level: I think it is possible to get more accurate knowledge of what is in your best interest, and I think I am freer in this sense now than I was when I was 15. But at what point does an education cease being “liberal” (free-making) and start being a kind of brain-washing?


  6. You bring up another good question. When does education become brain washing? I do not believe there is a limit as far as hight of education where it becomes brain washing, but I believe this line exists in a different domain, namely in the method of education. I believe that education becomes brainwashing at the point where students are being told what to believe, what to say, and how to act, rather than teaching them how to think and analyze for themselves to be able to take several different points and make a decent decision as to what they believe themselves to be right.

    If this is not the method of teaching that takes place throughout the educational experience of a student, then he will graduate from school and go into life having ideas that were implanted in his head and will act on them and them alone, never being able to analyze the ever-changing world to adapt as he gets older, and thus his so-called “education” will have ceased when he left school, rather than being a life-long process. I don’t believe school is exists to teach us everything we need to know, rather to teach us HOW to learn everything we need to know.


  7. Here’s a smart-alecky reply: who brainwashed you into thinking this? Because I suppose there are some who would say there’s no such thing as thinking independently; “thinking for yourself” is really just a European enlightenment brainwashing artifact, planted into your head by centuries of tradition. But I don’t hold this view. Indeed, it seems to sort of self-destruct: is the claim that all education is brainwashing itself a product of brainwashing? If it is, then why take the criticism (or anything) seriously?

    Here’s a better reply, from Kant: “Anyone, therefore, who has learnt (in the strict sense of that term) a system of philosophy, such as that of Wolff, although he may have all its principles, explanations, and proofs, together with the formal divisions of the whole body of doctrine, in his head, and, so to speak, at his fingers’ ends, has no more than a complete historical knowledge of the Wolffian philosophy. He knows and judges only what has been given him. If we dispute a definition, he knows not where to obtain another. He has formed his mind on another’s, and the imitative faculty is not itself productive. In other words, his knowledge has not in him arisen out of reason, and although, objectively considered, it is indeed knowledge due to reason, it is yet, in its subjective character, merely historical. He has grasped and kept; that is, he has learned well, and is merely a plaster-cast of a living man.” (CPR, B 804)


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