Socratic Inquiry in Modern Life

Another God

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Socrates was sentenced to death by the state of Athens because he was found guilty of corrupting the youth, revoking old Gods, creating new ones, and being an atheist. He was charged with these things because Socrates believed he was under instruction from the oracle to seek out those who claim to have knowledge but in fact did not.

Socrates spent his whole life walking around talking to people, inquiring into their beliefs and challenging them. He would approach people who believed themselves to be an authority on an issue, and ask them to explain to him what they knew. He would approach generals and ask them what bravery was, and what it takes to be brave. He would ask poets what love was, judges what justice was, priests what piety was etc. In every case he would talk to these people, questioning them so they could show him to the true meaning of such terms, thereby imparting such knowledge to him. In every case he found that not one person actually knew what they claimed to know.

In the course of doing this, the 'youth' of Athens (some of which were young rich men with lots of spare time) took to following him around, watching the "pretenders" being examined, and inevitably shown to be ignorant. These youth would then mimic Socrates' ways and start questioning other people.

These facts angered many people. People, particularly people who claim to be an authority on a particular topic hate nothing more than being shown to be wrong. Socrates, in showing them their ignorance, and in teaching (inadvertantly) others to also find the ignorance of men, was sentenced to death by the people he was examining.

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Would implementing a school of socratic inquiry into modern life, or finding a way to inject socratic inquiry into modern society in some other way be a good thing? Would our society be able to handle it? Would it even be possible for our society to take up such a thing, or would it only ever be a lone man/small group of people, forever fighting the tide of the masses.

What would happen when people are forced to justify their beliefs and opinions?

Combined post:
(Another God, and Dark Wing.)
 
I think that it would be a great thing. Actually, this kind of ties into my "guilty until proven innocent" post.

I remember that in high school, I had a history teacher who would from time to time invoke the ocratic method. Most people seemed to be annoyed by it; they just wanted to find out what they needed to know for the next test and be out of there.

I have used the Socratic method when discussing a topic, showing a person to be absurd in his opinion, and he just kinda shut off all attempts at thinking at that point, stopping the conversation, all while knowing that he was shown to be contradicting himself.

Actually understanding why you believe the way you do, instead of taking up traditional values and prejudices passed to you by your family, friends, and society-at-large is a much better way to go about things.
 
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Excellent post, DarkWing and AG!

I, personally, like to imploy my own version of this Socratic method in all of my discussions/debates. I use the Devil's Advocate principle, much like he used the trick of making someone think they are teaching you something, when in fact you are just listening to expose flaws.

As to whether our society can handle it, you must mean the world as a whole, since we live in different societies (I live in the U.S.A.). However, I think most people today who live in "civilized" or "advanced" cultures prefer to think that they know alot, and would probably re-institute burning people at the stake if the Socratic method were to be widely used again :wink:.
 

jammieg

That's basically what I think he was doing, forcing people to think, nothing more annoying than someone who not only thinks too much and too radically but then has the nerve to make everyone else think through showing some real or imaginary great need for self-examination and doubting things. Was he an atheist, I don't remeber that?
What was this "daemonion" or mystical inner voice thing he often refered too? Do you think he actually heared voices sometimes?
 

Another God

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Socrates claimed that he heard the Delphi Oracle speak to him whenever he was going to do something bad. The Oracle would stop him from doing it.

Do I believe him? I doubt it was true, but i don't doubt he believed it was true.
 
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Re: Re: Socratic Inquiry in Modern Life

Originally posted by Mentat
Excellent post, DarkWing and AG!

I, personally, like to employ my own version of this Socratic method in all of my discussions/debates. I use the Devil's Advocate principle, much like he used the trick of making someone think they are teaching you something, when in fact you are just listening to expose flaws.
Yes, the beauty of listening to engrained rhetoric. It almost became a sport to see Socrates do this to people in Athens. A cruel technique is the inquiry. But efficient, oh is it efficient.

As to whether our society can handle it, you must mean the world as a whole, since we live in different societies (I live in the U.S.A.). However, I think most people today who live in "civilized" or "advanced" cultures prefer to think that they know a lot, and would probably re-institute burning people at the stake if the Socratic method were to be widely used again :wink:.
To this I agree entirely. People would mistake what is going on and see it as an attack on the person (as people seem to be so closely defined by what they believe these days) and minority groups would polarize and more groups would arise... instead of a new informed dialectic society it would probably instigate civil war. But after the war... maybe with a new education system we can start again and show people there is another way to see them selves, knowledge and the world.

It would never work just to start this somewhere. We would have to introduce it slowly through education staring in primary schools. I watched a brilliant documentary about "philosophy for children" in which little children in yr 1 (6-7 yrs old) were taught Socratic inquiry and given a little story about a girl who was thinking a lot. Then they were asked to comment on where they were thinking. Completely unprovoked, the class then split into 2 basic groups: the people who believed that thinking was in the brain, and those who thought that thinking was something outside the brain. Arguments for this ranged from one child stating that "if you didn’t have a brain, you wouldn’t even be hearing the words that I am speaking, and you wouldn’t even be alive, and you couldn’t stand up and you would keep falling over all the time and get hit by cars" to the support for the other "I don’t think that all thinking goes in the brain cause you can think with your heart and you can fell it in your body".

This was 5 weeks after Socratic inquiry and philosophy was introduced to these children. If we can start to encourage the younger generation to think, it wont really matter about what happens to the older - as they will eventually die out anyway and the world can be taken over by questioners. The older generation, in the most part, will not be thought to be taught differently, especially those like politicians who have relied their entire life on rhetoric to convince others. The only concern is that the authorities, who rightfully are very scared of Socratic inquiry being taught throughout society, will try to squash this project before it gets a chance to get started. But still, through pressure of certain slow moving forces, it is being introduced, and if more people find out and demand that it do be taught (that is, if the parents of this new generation don’t mind that their kids will be questioning their own beliefs) then it will have no choice to flourish.

This is not to say that everyone will be able to employ the Socratic technique. But if we can get the majority of society to do so then it is a worthy cause indeed. True justification of ones beliefs is an important step to interacting within this world we are faced with.
 

jammieg

I believe Socrates did hear voices if he said he did, lots of people have made such claims but I don't think anyone knows exactly how it works, yet whatever the process is I'm almost certain it's all in the brain and yet the odd thing is that almost every one of them always begins by thinking it is external. I also think there is nothing to fear in speaking what one believes is the truth, it is when we fear the consequences of speaking what we believe is the truth that others can't correct us or we correct them, and if not correcting things then where are we going? Besides men have been fighting wars forever and over far less important things so if such methods should really lead to such actions who cares at least it would be for a nobler cause the next time.
 
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Originally posted by Another God
Socrates claimed that he heard the Delphi Oracle speak to him whenever he was going to do something bad. The Oracle would stop him from doing it.

Do I believe him? I doubt it was true, but i don't doubt he believed it was true.
When you say "I doubt it was true", do you mean that you doubt he actually heard the Oracle, or that you doubt he heard a voice at all?
 

Another God

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Originally posted by Mentat
When you say "I doubt it was true", do you mean that you doubt he actually heard the Oracle, or that you doubt he heard a voice at all?
I doubt that he heard the oracle. Hearing voice is easy. Hearing voices from something other than our own brain....thats unlikely.
 
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Originally posted by Another God
I doubt that he heard the oracle. Hearing voice is easy. Hearing voices from something other than our own brain....thats unlikely.
I thought that was what you meant, but had to be sure.

I also don't think he heard the voice of an actual Oracle, but I'm pretty sure he heard what he believed to be an Oracle's voice in his own mind.

You know, I read that Christopher Columbus saw a vision, wherein God told him to take his foolish (foolish according to everyone else at the time) journey. So, again, someone believed that they were inspired by some divine being, but this was certainly not the case (even if God exists and talks to people, He would never have told Columbus to travel to America, which resulted in the mass colonization of the White Man, and the brutal massacre of many Native Americans).
 

hypnagogue

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Originally posted by jammieg
I believe Socrates did hear voices if he said he did, lots of people have made such claims but I don't think anyone knows exactly how it works, yet whatever the process is I'm almost certain it's all in the brain and yet the odd thing is that almost every one of them always begins by thinking it is external.
I think people attribute internal voices to an external source for biological/mental reasons. There are all sorts of cases of lesion studies where patients will have apparently odd beliefs concerning their self image, even when their beliefs are plainly faulty to outside observors. For instance, some people who are paralyzed in certain regions of their body insist that they are not really paralyzed at all, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenics are more likely to believe their internal voices are being radioed in from Mars than to accept reasoning that the voices originate from their own brains. There are ideas about the neural pathways of the brain involved in self-image and belief that give nice theoretical, biologically based answers to these strange phenomena (the precise details of which elude me for the moment). The simple answer is that belief is not as objective as we might ideally like it to be, especially belief concerning one's own self and that self's nature.
 

Another God

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This is a section out of my essay that I handed in today. What do you think?

Socrates’ dream has quite obviously not happened quite as Socrates wanted it, but at least the tradition has been passed down. From here, would it be beneficial to implement the Socratic philosophical project as Socrates wished it to be, or would that be a bad idea? A lot has changed since Socrates’ time including the volume of information that needs to be incorporated before making practical inquiry, the structure of our society, and the way we communicate to say the least.

Since Socrates’ time, we have had over 2000 years of accumulated ideas, thoughts and attempted answers to the questions that Socrates has raised. We have seen insights from people of a range of backgrounds from the entire world and not just from a single city in Europe. We have progressed from the hand written records of Plato’s time, to the printing press, to the telegraph, to the internet, all of them recording the events of their according times. Within those records we know of the revolutions, the lessons learnt, the problems solved, the brilliant insights of brilliant people, and the dismal failures of ill thought through concepts. Just as Ryle [5] points out that capable thinking Is a consequence of knowing what mistakes to avoid, so our society has recorded all of its mistakes and vows to avoid them. What is left to inquire about? With 2000 years of hard work behind us it is hard to believe that we could be wrong about any of our scientific, political, ethical, economic and historical beliefs.

As stated above in the Irony of Socratic Inquiry, it is the people who believe they know the most, that are least likely to question, and at the same time, it is these people who would be the best at questioning what they know. With our knowledge of our world accumulated over the last 2000 years, we are surer of ourselves than ever. Our decisions hold more consequences then ever before, and our power to alter our environment is unprecedented. What if our confidence has blinded us to our errors?

With such power at our control, ensuring we have the right answers is more important than ever. Due to the huge amount of knowledge available to us though, the need to specialise in particular fields has become undeniably required, and so the ability to inquire meaningfully is probably also limited by the need to specialise. In other words, for anything meaningful to be asked about a field, it is important that the questioner understands the jargon, the undeniable ‘facts’ gathered about this field (observations, repeatable experiments etc), and the history of the field. Without knowledge of this collection of data, the inquirer is wasting his own, and everybody else’s time.

The internet has created a new marketplace for modern Socrates’. The internet abounds with discussion forums available to anyone with an internet connection to access: www.physicsforums.com,[/url] [PLAIN]www.Sciforums.com, [Broken] www.philosophyforums.com, [Broken] www.enterpriseeconomy.com/forums/, www.historyforums.com etc. Anyone who has even the slightest desire to question things can do so easily now. Is this helping the advancement of knowledge though? Not really. It is having very little impact simply because the questions asked by the participants in these forums are not well directed. They only ever critically appraise topics of which they know very little, assuming that their own topic is infallible because they know all of the answers to the most common questions. They never stop to think that maybe the common questions are common precisely because it is always those uneducated about their topic, who are asking them, never someone who knows not to bother asking the already known answers, but instead to question that which is unknown, and that which is problematic. Instead of these online discussions being directed towards critically appraising topics valid for critical appraisal, they end up being pointless tutorials for the uneducated individuals who don’t even care to be educated in that topic in the first place.

For Socratic Inquiry to be significant in our modern society, people need to be taught to question that which they know about. The inquiry process must be focused.
 
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Originally posted by Another God
This is a section out of my essay that I handed in today. What do you think?

[/B]
Very good work, AG! :smile:

But, curse you for having included Sciforums.com and philosophyforums.com in the same light as the PFs. :wink:
 

pyrophoric

"a wise man knows he knows nothing." A brilliant phrase that I try to keep in mind. We do learn something knew every day, and each new thing I learn proves to me that there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to Know the things that I Don't Know Yet. I love to ask people questions about thoughts of mine that I obsess over and try and break down in every angle that I can possibly grasp, because the one thing I've never heard before is what THEY THINK OR WHAT THEIR VIEWPOINT IS. I am always amazed at how someone who has never pondered a unified field theory or read Einstein, can express an outlook or connection that I hadn't considered or that I hadn't tried to relate before.
I LOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN PROVE ME WRONG OR STUMP ME BECAUSE THAT MEANS I AM BECOMing AWARE OF THINGS THAT I CAN'T EXPLAIN...I CAN NOW SEE A FEW MORE THINGS THAT I DON'T KNOW YET, WHICH IS THE HARDEST THING TO EVER SEE. I CAN THEN START TRYING TO COME UP WITH A POSITION ON THE NEW IDEA, WHERE IF I HAD NEVER BEEN CHALLENGED I WOULD HAVE NEVER KNOWN THAT I DIDN'T HAVE A CLUE AND NEVER WOULD HAVE SEARCHED FOR THAT KNOWLEDGE. My favorite moments are when someone randomly expresses something to me as if it were the obvious way to look at it and I can honestly turn to them and IN AWE and say "I'd NEVER THOUGHT OF IT LIKE THAT..."

(that is, if the parents of this new generation don’t mind that their kids will be questioning their own beliefs) then it will have no choice to flourish.

kids question their parents beliefs now, by doing drugs, having sex, not giving importance to school...the problem is more with what beliefs the parents focus on and how most of the things they tell thier children about life conflict with their actions (so that the only belief instilled in the child is that adults, parents especially are lying and manipulating them) or they just recite beliefs based on what society's definition of "good parenting" is without any passion, wisdom or actual purpose for the things they force their children to accept as truths. All that we need to do is start really appreciating that immense impact that we as humans can have on future generations and truly try and express to them our passions and wonderments...our curiosities and pain...AND ALSO, REALIZE THAT A CHILDS MIND MAKES THE MOST RANDOM, YET CONNECTED OBSERVATIONS, AND TO TRY AND GRASP A CHILD'S VIEWPOINT AND REASONING WILL TRULY EXPAND YOUR BRAIN'S WAY OF COMMUNICATING TO YOU.

I question everything, so that I can figure something out, which can lead me to more questions. If we all just started doing this, we wouldn't have to build schools to train children on how to question. They ask "why" like we say "cause I said so, that's why"

AS A SOCIETY WE NEED TO START QUESTIONING THOSE WHO WE ALLOW TO HAVE OUR POWER AND WHAT MOTIVATES THEM TO USE THE POWER WE GIVE THEM. THEY ARE NOT MOTIVATED BY OUR BEST INTERESTS AND ONCE THAT HAS BECOME CLEAR, WE REALLY SHOULD DEMAND THAT THEY TRY AND DEFEND THEIR ACTIONS LOGICALLY AND IF THEIR REASONING IS PROVEN TO BE ILLOGICAL, CONTRADICTARY, THEN WE MUST FIGURE OUT LOGICAL SOLUTIONS TO OUR PROBLEMS AS HUMANITY AS A WHOLE AND MAKE SURE THAT THEY ARE PUT INTO ACTION.
 

Njorl

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In the course of doing this, the 'youth' of Athens (some of which were young rich men with lots of spare time) took to following him around, watching the "pretenders" being examined, and inevitably shown to be ignorant. These youth would then mimic Socrates' ways and start questioning other people.
They did a bit more than mimic Socrates' ways.

They collaborated with foreign enemies, seized power, murdered over 1500 citizens (many by torture) and seized their wealth. Socrates' students were bloodthirsty, rapacious, dishonorable and disloyal to their city.

Njorl
 
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Originally posted by pyrophoric
"a wise man knows he knows nothing." A brilliant phrase that I try to keep in mind. We do learn something knew every day, and each new thing I learn proves to me that there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to Know the things that I Don't Know Yet.
I think that your sense of awe and desire to learn are great.

However...what you said up here contradicts itself. If I take it as being straightforward, you are saying gaining new knowledge shows you that you can't gain new knowledge (and first thinking of this idea is gaining new knowledge). If you can't gain new knowledge, then you couldn't have been lead to that conclusion by gaining new knowledge.

This sounds like "The more you know, the more you don't," but that phrase isn't supposed to be taken straigh-forwardly..you have to fill in the gaps: "The more you know, the more [things that you realize] you don't [know]." In other words, it's not that gaining knowledge makes you lose knowledge, but that gaining knowledge shows you that there are even more things which you don't know. But I can't see any such manipulation of what you said, so it doesn't make any sense to me.
 

selfAdjoint

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In grad school I was presented with the following image: Think of what is known as the interior of an expanding sphere. As knowledge grows, the surface of the sphere, the boundary of knowledge, touches the unknown at more and more points.
 
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Originally posted by selfAdjoint
In grad school I was presented with the following image: Think of what is known as the interior of an expanding sphere. As knowledge grows, the surface of the sphere, the boundary of knowledge, touches the unknown at more and more points.
Very interesting concept. There is, of course, the problem of not learning all different things at the same rate (causing a pretty odd-shaped sphere), but this is still an awesome illustration.
 
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Originally posted by selfAdjoint
In grad school I was presented with the following image: Think of what is known as the interior of an expanding sphere. As knowledge grows, the surface of the sphere, the boundary of knowledge, touches the unknown at more and more points.
...and thus as you grow older, you have to scratch in(knowledge) a larger and larger area, more and more understanding the difficulty of knowing.

Funny. I learned that thing from my mother's boyfriend too. Which again learned it from Arne Næss, if I don't remember wrong.

Really like that quote. One of those few that really sticks, without knowing before you realize it after some time.
 

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