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.

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