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Some observations on Socrates and his methods

 
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Tim Addey



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 12, 2015 1:33 pm    Post subject: Some observations on Socrates and his methods Reply with quote

It may be worth considering the way in which Socrates approaches the various characters he meets in the dialogues of Plato – he is after all, I think, Plato's model philosopher, and offered to us in a manner which parallels the way in which the eternal ideas of the intelligible world are offered to the sensible world. To paraphrase an old first world war line – if you can find a better model, go to it!

I think we can divide the way in which Socrates converses with others in the dialogues into at least three distinct modes:

The first is when he meets with young men who are at the dawn of their philosophic experience: here his primary task is to stimulate wonder and curiosity, and then to offer them a glimpse of the truths that lie largely undiscovered in the depths of their own souls. This approach is always encouraging and gentle. Sometimes, of course, he does need to expose their ignorance and complacency in cases where they are unaware of the extent of their own careless and unexamined assumptions concerning important matters – but this is done in a spirit of friendship, and he never pushes the fact of their initial ignorance beyond its useful point. He knows that doing so would be counter-productive, and if they don't respond to his encouragement to go deeper, he will happily let them go on their own way – displaying a faith that each soul will walk its own path to that moment when it turns back upon its own interior treasure-house of wisdom, and from this "turning" begins the ascent to divine wisdom. Examples of such encounters are to be found in the Theaetetus, the First Alcibiades and Euthyphro, amongst others.

The second mode is one in which Socrates meets and discusses with those who are clearly committed to the philosophic enterprise: companions, followers, or distinguished visitors from centres of learning (usually from localities known to be strongly Pythagorean such as Elea). Here he cheerfully joins the co-operative search for the deepest truths, sometimes leading (as in the Republic and the Phaedo), sometimes following (as in the Parmenides and the Timaeus), but always pursuing the goal with mutual respect and friendliness.

The third mode is the most dramatic and the one which seems to catch the imagination of many – this is the one in which Socrates deals with powerful politicians, sophists and orators: these are those who have taken a erroneous view of human life, and who are in a position to put into action their warped view of life, or to teach it to impressionable young citizens. Here we see Socrates the intrepid hoplite who does not desert his station, who deals firmly and, at times, disdainfully with those who are, in reality, the corruptors of youth and the enemies of good order and truth. We can see an increasing intensity of attack upon the three main respondents and their views in the Gorgias, as an example – as well as his confrontation of Anytus in the Meno (a politician who will later play a key role in the fatal prosecution of our philosopher).

So often when I hear those who are inspired to take up philosophy, especially Platonic philosophy, in the public and semi-public forum, it is to this third confrontational mode to which they look as the principal way to emulate Socrates. This, I think, is a pity – the other two modes are generally more likely to produce good results – and it is rare that such an approach is needed when two (or more) genuinely committed seekers of wisdom come together, no matter how much they may initially disagree with each other.

One final point worth making: the famous stance Socrates takes – "the one thing I know, is that I know nothing" is really only evident where Socrates is having to deal with characters of the third mode, or young men of the first mode who need to be drawn into a pursuit of truth they hardly know exists. Our model philosopher admits his ignorance especially when having to deal with doxa (or opinion) rather than reason – for example when speaking to the non-philosophically trained majority of the jury of 500 who are judging him in the Apology. When speaking with his fellow philosophers in contrast, he is often to be seen affirming truths because he knows he will be given time and space to follow the reasons of his affirmations back to their source in the world of real beings (or eternal, stable and luminous ideas): it is really only under these circumstances that anyone knows anything – the appearance of knowledge at the level of mere opinion is just that – an appearance, and Socrates is not fooled by it.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 13, 2015 2:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

‘likely to produce good results’ therein the rub, to know of the form of the good, of the eidos, is not to be good or to have knowledge of the good, but merely to divine its truly being at all.

This topic of yours is of perennial interest, most of all because it unlocks our own patterns of being human, if, indeed, what is at the essence of man is either speech or ratio. The light that shone brightly in Plato’s day is not much changed in this one respect of the quarrelsome babbling and its precise opposite, the sanctimonious silence. These two stand in underlying unity. Consecutive dialogic speech is one notion of the basis or substance of the philosophic work itself. It is in the coarse and unusually vicious character of the dialogues that we see man as man. For instance when Anytus, in the Meno, is struck by the fact of Socrates' differing notion of the good, and so offended, and thus, from then forward would fain kill Socrates, the veriest of the vile corrupt. Everything else is sanctimonious evasion. But these two are the same thing. Sneering self-satisfaction dressed in humbleness, and eristic obdurance without end. Two escapes from genuine confrontation.

The first, you thusly name, mode is only suited to a classroom, because otherwise only paltry and idle people, who just nod without being genuinely convinced of anything will go along with anything the slightest bit beyond the most self-evident common sense. Because, everyone prefers the education they have given themselves or those securities of the imbecile and formulaic professors of their youth, to something alien. Teachers, thus, are the only wise people. And only due to the fact that ‘Socratic method’ is a scam where somebody who is presupposed to know indoctrinates a willing youth primarily for mercenary reasons of cultural capital, certificationism, and other such low reasons. Even if they have a genuine desire to learn they are duped, for the teacher, who claims not to teach, is not wise but a liar.

In the second case the subterfuge is worsened. Because both parties are plunged into the things they themselves have nursed into being, and are thereby solicitous to advance. And both wish to seek the same courtesy for their own children as they would deliver those of the other. Thus universal duplicity follows. As the reader of such a work, we learn something, but not the participants.

Only, thus, in the third case can one suppose to find honest contest the door to true transformation. For no man will give up a view only because a fair argument has been made. The contest must be as Plato said, like a match in the arena. Thus, one could make a formula, eristic but in earnest. The sophist is the intellectual, the teacher is the mere scholar, but the philosopher is, as the primary adage has it, contestant. This final figure deserves the ridiculous link to the game show. Their road is difficult, and a mountain of impassibile difficulty rises before them. The mindless obdurance of the others, each surveying their own good sense, in its superiority to each other. And at the same time playing lip service to this or that dead idol, who is secretly the bearer of their own banner by way of self-deception.

What is left when this view of the basis of philosophy is abandoned is the view that each philosopher is the master of their own coop. Merely producing intelligible arguments, that is defenses aside from their basic journey or work, to fend off the ravenous wolves at the door of the ego, as an activity incidental to their substantive activity.

‘the appearance of knowledge at the level of mere opinion is just that – an appearance, and Socrates is not fooled by it.’ But then do you deny that Socrates was truly searching for the way to learn, e.g., virtue, or, put more precisely, to know if virtue is teachable? knowledge seems a prerequisite to this. But, I do not see that knowing that there is a form, makes for teachability. It must not, because there is no Just city, or city of virtuous people. Plato nor Socrates have established anything but quarrel.
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Fri Nov 13, 2015 11:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Tim, nicely put.

One of the aims of philosophy is to discover true distinctions and you’ve provided plenty of food for thought here.

What I would like to add is a little on the nature of the discussion with regard to the ‘unknown’ - which must be confronted in any discourse on truth. What follows I see as a possible development of your theme.

One could not imagine, say, a convention of shoemakers having to confront the unknown to any particular degree. However philosophical discussion is different, for only in philosophy can a case be made for knowing and not knowing as being ‘willing accomplices’; but more of that later. Whereas doxa concerning the techne of, say, cobbling is useful for 'knowing how' to produce certain things, the fact that everyone present has a good grasp of the subject of conversation (shoemaking) and its known objects (shoes) would set notions of ‘the unknown’ at a low premium. It is when this ‘knowing’ is carried into the horizon of discerning-what-is that obfuscation quickly follows, unless of course someone is present who understands what this ‘unknown’ really is.

I wonder what you think of the roles of doxa (opinion), lethe or krupto ‘cryptic’ (hiddenness) and pseudos (deception) as they appear in the Dialogues? I would like to connect them with your three modal distinctions which all, as it happens, appear within the first two books of Republic, though there they occur in what I consider their natural order rather than the order you present them in your post.

Polemarchus, is obviously bold enough of body to ‘threaten’ to carry Socrates by force to his house for conversation. But, there, he proves as timid of mind as he is strong in thumos - putty in Socrates hands actually - when required to think. He could certainly be one of your young men at the dawn of their philosophic experience, relying on doxa and deferring to the opinions of others rather than reasoning for himself. Socrates’ handling of their conversation is instructive, gently forcing Polemarchus into, what is for him, the unknown.

Then, following hard upon, is the confrontation with Thrasymachus, the aggressive Sophist. He is plainly mischievous, attacking ‘full on’ with ideas he may either believe or not believe in. Either way he plays the role of a deceiver. I feel that this section is masterly in that, although mischievous, Thrasymachus’ deception is very convincing to those whose minds are not yet made up. That’s why he has to be fully confronted. I assume what Plato here is demonstrating is the art of eristic as when a lawyer presses the suite of his client whether it is right of wrong. Socrates employs the philosophical equivalent of eristis, that of elenchus. He has already used this with Polemarchus, forcing him to continually change his hypothesis until it is shown to be beyond repair, but now he faces deception rather than mere opinion.

Everyone seems to have their own view on this ‘battle’. For me the key moment is where Thrasymachus is forced to assert something that later becomes his downfall.

“And so to be precise (and precision is what you aim it) no skilled craftsman ever makes a mistake. For he makes a mistake because his knowledge fails him, and he is then no longer a skilled craftsman …To be really precise one must say that the ruler, in so far as he is a ruler, makes no mistake ….” [Republic 340de]

Thrasymachus admits the distinction between a man, entirely fallible, and his craft, infallible, therefore inadvertently elevating the latter into a Form, or eidos. He has admitted more than he should, being outmanoeuvred by Socrates, who reminds him of this at a key point later in the elenchus causing Thrasymachus’ argument to fall apart.

However Socrates is most unhappy with his victory. Elenchus, compared with true dialectic, is rather thin gruel. It is excellent at putting bad arguments down but has very little facility for replacing them with its own convincing arguments of the truth itself and of the true distinctions that lie within it. This is probably due to its association, albeit glancing, with pseudos, for, brilliant though it was, Socrates defeat of Thrasymachus was not entirely beyond the arena of falsehood. Even when he used Thrasymachus’ statement about the infallibility in the case of the shepherd and his sheep, he won the argument but surely not the hearts of the interlocutors.

And this brings me to your second type of conversation - which I think, of its nature, is the third, or final - though it doesn’t matter really.

This is where the pursuers after truth face a different kind of ‘mask’: that of lethe, which in this context is probably a better term than krupto. In this pursuit the seekers cease in their confrontation with each other, but face a common ‘foe’ – that which is obscuring truth, or openness. This is clearly what you are talking of here:

Quote:
<<The second mode is one in which Socrates meets and discusses with those who are clearly committed to the philosophic enterprise: companions, followers, or distinguished visitors from centres of learning (usually from localities known to be strongly Pythagorean such as Elea). Here he cheerfully joins the co-operative search for the deepest truths, sometimes leading (as in the Republic and the Phaedo), sometimes following (as in the Parmenides and the Timaeus), but always pursuing the goal with mutual respect and friendliness.>>


This is what occurs either when there is true companionship at the outset, or when dissent has been cleared away by the other two modes of discourse. Republic is the Dialogue that contains all three modes in what I consider their natural order, and where the dialectic has as its object the distinctions 'in themselves', rather than the weakness of each other’s arguments. These latter still play a role but not a divisive one. Truth, or aletheia, as Heidegger never failed to remind us, is a privative. In its etymology it is ‘protected’ by lethe – 'hiddenness' rather than 'oblivion' - and it is to be brought into the open.

In this context could it not be that Socrates’ not-knowing is lethe itself?

I agree with Third Man, this subject is of perennial interest.
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Tim Addey



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PostPosted: Fri Nov 13, 2015 12:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Peter

You raise a number of very interesting points. Let me for the moment just concentrate on one - the order of the modes - and draw out an important implication of the way I have set them out. By the by, I am following the order of Proclus' insightful comments on dialectic in his Commentary on the Parmenides, 653 - so I'm not claiming any great originality here.

The great problem with the third mode (the bare elenchus) is this: if I, firmly believing two plus two equals three meet you, who are equally convinced that in reality the answer to this is five, then by this method we will attack each other in order to conquer and establish which one of us is correct. But, of course, neither of us holds the right answer, and unless we find a method of discovering the actual truth, at best we will walk away in agreement, but still in error.

If we are to truthfully refute the unphilosophical sophists and politicians we encounter we will have had to go through the second method before the third. Obviously, in the dialogues in which Socrates uses this last method, we must assume in the quietness of his meditations (which Plato is at pains to show us, in the Symposium, was his regular habit) or his other co-operative conversations, he had already gone through the discoveries only available to those who have undertaken the second method. As he himself says somewhere, "it is easy to argue against Socrates, but not against truth."

The great problem with even a simple question, such as what is two plus two? is that there are an indefinite number of wrong answers, and only one right one. At present the human race seems pretty determined to try out all the wrong answers one by one in the hope that they'll stumble on the right one. But even here, it seems to be a forlorn hope, for as Meno says, how will we recognise the right answer even if we do chance upon it?

We must, I think, follow the dialectic of real being, as outlined in the Parmenides and expanded by Proclus in his Commentary on it, if we are to avoid the fate of a mental Sisyphus ..... it is a method which rests upon the great Platonic affirmation that images of eternal truths are inherent in the human soul, waiting to be brought into the light by a steady, quiet and reverential journey inwards. (And not, I think, in the heat, noise and tumult of an external battle).
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2015 2:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A childish evasion.
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Tim Addey



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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2015 11:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Peter, let me pick up on another of your points:


Peter Blumsom wrote:
Truth, or aletheia, as Heidegger never failed to remind us, is a privative. In its etymology it is ‘protected’ by lethe – 'hiddenness' rather than 'oblivion' - and it is to be brought into the open.

In this context could it not be that Socrates’ not-knowing is lethe itself?


Plato rests much upon the etymology of aletheia - the essential understanding of the nature of human knowledge for him springs from the view that all the great truths which shape reality have their counterparts as reasons within the human soul; but these truths are more or less forgotten, and their recovery requires a great deal of philosophical effort. By which, of course, he means a great deal of philosophical living. As the Seventh Letter (341d) says of our approach to the highest truths: "For a thing of this kind cannot be expressed by words like other disciplines, but by long familiarity, and living in conjunction with the thing itself, a light as it were leaping from a fire will on a sudden be enkindled in the soul, and there itself nourish itself."

The great advance the thinker makes when calmly working in the second (or, if you like, your third) form of Socratic philosophizing is that he or she is remembering the truths which lie hidden in the darkness of material existence. A darkness which arises partly because of the multiplicity of material things, and partly because of the soul's admixture with the passions and desires prompted by the body and its needs. As Socrates says in the Phaedo (65c), "But the soul then reasons in the most beautiful manner, when it is disturbed by nothing belonging to the body, neither by hearing, nor sight, nor pain, nor any pleasure, but subsists in the most eminent degree, itself by itself, bidding farewell to the body, and, as much as possible neither communicating nor being in contact with it, extends itself towards real being."

Every eternal idea has countless manifestations throughout the world of time - including manifestations in others' (and our own) opinions: where a dialogue starts with opinion(s) the very nature of opinion (doxa) places the persons of that dialogue on the surface of things. From that point of view, you are right - Socrates is, for a while, placing himself at the level of lethe or "forgetfulness" in order to retrace his previously trodden path back towards the reasons within his soul. He can, therefore, quite legitimately describe himself as "not knowing" or in a state of forgetfulness.

The words exchanged in a dialogue have a relationship to the thoughts which they express; the thoughts have a relationship to the reality which they approach: I think that Socrates never loses sight of the goal of philosophy - the reality, and not the words.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 23, 2015 7:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"'hiddenness' rather than 'oblivion'"

Thusly, in your childishness, you reject the connection between truth and forgetting. Adult persons must consider lethe as guided by the implication of the sense, oblivion.
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Tue Nov 24, 2015 10:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
you reject the connection between truth and forgetting.


I didn't reject it, but it wasn't the aspect I wanted to bring out. I'm sure you understand that.

Quote:
Adult persons must consider lethe as guided by the implication of the sense, oblivion.


Without some sort of account such statements do not need any response.

You sometimes have promising ideas, O Third Man, but seem to lack the ability to develop them, instead drifting off into empty polemic - or worse, troll-babble.

Why, when you can do so much better? After all, you might have a point, but who would ever know it?
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 25, 2015 1:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What is babble for the kinder(as in kindergarten), is not for serious people. Spengler, the man with 'troll' eyes, is decisive for Heidegger. One must not be wholly guided by bourgeois intellectual snobbery, but keep a look out for what is essential in these works.

You are incompletely informed about the usage of aletheia in Heidegger, who was compelled to admit that its 'natural meaning' had to do with reliability, both in Homer and the Athenian Greeks. One must understand the sense which his reading is worthy or not worthy through a familiarity with historial thinking. Which involves a decisive conflict with Nietzsche. Otherwise Heidegger's reading falls into sheer arbitrariness.

(I use the form 'historial' in order to indicate Husserl and Heidegger especially, and not the connected matter of the German Historiscists, and Hegel.)

P.S.

I wanted to add, in this general connection, that an interesting work has appeared, of which I am not yet acquainted with properly: https://books.google.com/books?id=w2c6YaKf9usC&printsec=frontcover&dq=German+Historicism&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi3zfeusarJAhXPVIgKHa8aAksQ6wEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=German%20Historicism&f=false
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 25, 2015 7:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You are too affected by reputation, O Third Man, and have too little confidence in your own thoughts; otherwise you would develop them more. This would enable us to join you in debate. With no references offered and no original thoughts put on the table, there really is nothing in these terse pronouncements worth responding to.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 28, 2015 6:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I invite serious response to all that has been written from those with knowledge of the subject, or the serious desire to attain such. My experience is that Peter B. is flatly unable to enter thoughtful discussions.

P.S.

I must make some attempt to construct the movement of thought in modernity, and so my post on Berkeley which I hope to follow up with an essential look at the horizon as it points back to the classical Athenians.
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