Thursday, January 26, 2006

Say What You Believe

John Mark writes that Hugh Hewitt's recent interview with Joel Stein is "one of the finest examples of Socratic questions leading to bewilderment on the part of the victim of Socratic reasoning I have seen in some time."

I want to point out that Hugh insisted on one of Socrates' rules of discussion: say what you believe.

The most important rule for a Socratic discussion (apart from being brief with your answers) is to say what you believe.

There are two reasons why Socrates requires his interlocutors to say what they believe. The first is to make sure the interlocutor is being honest with his argument and the second is to test the interlocutor's seriousness about pursuing the truth.

The elenchus has not only the philosophical objective of discovering the truth; it also has a practical one. It aims to discover how every human ought to live (the philosophical objective) and then to test that single human being who is doing the answering -- to find out if he is living as one ought to live. But unless the interlocutor has given Socrates his actual beliefs, the elenchus cannot meet the second objective.

In the Protagoras (trans. W.R.M. Lamb), Protagoras tries to get out of an argumentative jam by saying (331a-c):

I do not take quite so simple a view of it, Socrates, as to grant that justice is holy and holiness just. I think we have to make a distinction here. Yet what difference does it make? he said: if you like, let us assume that justice is holy and holiness just.

But Socrates replies:

No, no, I said; I do not want this "if you like" or "if you agree" sort of thing to be put to the proof, but you and me together; and when I say "you and me" I mean that our statement will be most properly tested if we take away the "if."

Compare with Hewitt and Stein:

Stein says,

And honestly, I think that all these . . . for people who don't believe in the war and are putting up these stickers saying they support the troops anyway, my fear is that it's prolonging the war and putting them in further danger they don't need to be in.

But Hewitt replies, in Socratic fashion:

But Joel, I'm talking about you. I'm talking about what you honor, and you obviously don't honor military service.

Later, we have this bit, where Hewitt reminds Stein to say what he believes:

HH: And the people who've died in Afghanistan. Have they died in vain?

JS: Well, if they haven't, what have they accomplished?

HH: I'm asking you, Joel. You wrote the column. You tell me. Have they accomplished nothing?

JS: Well, um, do I think that I, as an American, are safer because of what they did?

HH: That wasn't what I asked. I asked did they accomplish anything in going to Afghanistan.

JS: If I were an Afghani, I would probably . . . if I lived in Kabul, I probably would think that they accomplished something, sure.

Now Hewitt isn't Socratic in the sense that he does not point out directly to Stein that some of what he said contradicts other things he said, but, then again, if you do that too much you might end up like Socrates.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Meno 70a-c

In response to Meno's opening question, Socrates says,

Meno, before now the Thessalians were famous among the Greeks and honored for horsemanship and for wealth, but now, it seems to me, [they are to be honored] also for wisdom (sophia) and not least [of them] the fellow citizens, Larissians, of your companion, Aristippus. The cause of this [happening] to you all is Gorgias. For after coming into the city, he took from the Aleudai lovers both of the foremost kind, [lovers] of wisdom -- among them your lover Aristippus -- and other Thessalians. And in particular, this is the habit to which he has accustomed you all: to answer fearlessly and magnificently whatever anyone would ask, as is fitting of those who know, just as also he offers himself to whoever of the Greeks wishes to ask whatever anyone would wish -- and there is no one he does not answer.

Socrates is not done, but we'll pause here to note the importance of Gorgias. Is Gorgias's influence a good one? Perhaps not, though his reputation as one who answers any question posed to him is demonstrated in Plato's dialogue, Gorgias.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Meno 70a

Here begins my translation of Plato's Meno. (I will go back at some time and pick up my translation of the Republic.)

Meno: Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is taught, or not taught but had by practice, or -- neither had by practice nor learnt -- comes to men by nature or in some other way?

So begins Plato's dialogue on, among other things, teaching and learning.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Some Answers about Fishing at Night

Michael Gilleland has come up with a partial answer to my questions about what fishing at night in ancient Greece was like.

My original posts on this matter are here, here, and here.

Aside: After Dr. Gilleland linked to me, my ranking in the TTLB ecosystem went up to a "Wriggly Worm" and then "Crunchy Crustacean," two fine specimens for fish bait. Coincidence?