Friday, April 9, 2021

Don't ruminate

If you are treated unjustly, try not to ruminate on it. That is the path to resentment and anger, which is the path to acting unjustly yourself. Don’t allow your soul to be damaged thus. Move on and focus on your own good character. Be an example. Let other people ruminate on how justly you treat them.

- Socrates

Why get upset?

Why get upset if someone forms a falsely negative impression of you? When someone interprets a true statement as false, the statement itself is not harmed. It will continue to be whatever it is. And the same is true of you. A person's false belief about you cannot harm your character. Your character remains as it is despite their thoughts. So let them believe whatever they want, for you have no control over their thoughts. Move on. Live your life well and maintain your good character. After all, that is within your control.

- Socrates

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Too much Political Correctness?

I am often confused by the language used by you moderns. Recently I encountered the phrase PC gone mad. It was used as an accusation. As I am eager to learn, I asked some very wise people what is meant by the phrase. They told me that term PC means Politically Correct and that the phrase gone mad means that is has gone overboard. In other words, they said, there is too much of it.

I understand what it means to have too much of something, but I was still confused about the term Politically Correct. My friends told me that Political Correctness means reducing racism and sexism. They explained that a Politically Correct person does not like racism and sexism, and thus seeks to reduce them. My friends argued that racism and sexism are unjust behaviors. I accepted their arguments and am ashamed to admit that these things did not concern us in ancient times. We did practically nothing to be Politically Correct. But over the centuries people have made progress and have come to abhor the practice of racism and sexism.

But now I am even more confused. You moderns have come to understand that racism and sexism are not good, and yet I hear the complaint that PC has gone mad. People seem to think there is too much PC. In other words, people think that there is too much reduction of racism and sexism. Do you moderns believe that there is an optimal amount of racism and sexism? Do you think that removing more racism and sexism will be a bad thing? If so, it seems that you believe that some racism and sexism is good. 

I am old and unwise. Perhaps I have misunderstood. Or perhaps you have not made quite as much progress as I thought.

-- Socrates

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Escaping the cave

Yesterday I found myself participating in a most interesting dialogue about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Plato's beautiful allegory, it seems, has become a central discussion point in many philosophical dialogues. It has also served as a premise upon which many of your modern story tellers describe the challenge of escaping our clouded, indoctrinated version of reality to see the world for what it truly is.

I shall not provide an overview of the allegory here, save to say that although Plato presented it in my voice, it was not my idea. It was his. But I would like to mention a point raised in our discussion. Our dialogue turned to the notion of science and its attempt to provide certain knowledge. Now, I am not convinced that the scientific process will ever provide the sort of certainty my friends were talking about. That, my friends, sits more in the realm of mathematics and philosophical reasoning. Still, science does seem to give us an increasingly detailed explanation of reality. Interestingly, my discussion partners suggested that this is not necessarily a good thing. They claimed that our search for certainty is misguided. Perhaps, they said, it is better to embrace a level of uncertainty. As if doing so contributes to our humanity.

At this point I asked "Does this mean we should not attempt to turn from the shadows on the wall of the cave? Should we remain fixated, staring at the cave wall?" As I saw it, they were falling into the very trap that Plato's allegory warns us of, i.e that we are so enamored by the shadows on the wall, we shun any attempt at gaining knowledge and moving out of the cave. My question prompted a certain amount of back tracking and defense. But I think it revealed a tension between the desire for knowledge and the seduction of the shadows.

I very much enjoyed our dialogue. There was much discussed and I am pleased to say that I learned a great deal. I learned that after all this time, people still find it immensley difficult to turn their back to the cave wall.

- Socrates

Friday, February 12, 2021

Where to find happiness

Some people seem to be highly focused on money. They make it a priority. When I ask why they need it, they usually reply that they want to buy food and drink; clothing; technology; and various other things. Some items on their list seem quite important for survival, while others appear to be of little real importance.

I ask why they want these things. What are they really looking for? Almost universally people say that they want these things because they bring happiness—as if happiness is something that can be pushed into us by external objects.

I wonder if happiness does indeed come from the things we buy, or whether it comes from our thoughts about the things we buy. If the latter is true, then it seems to me that happiness can come from within rather than from external objects. It is true that we need food and drink to live. But other material goods may not be necessary for bringing about happiness. 

Let us reconsider how we think about walking in the park. Let us reconsider how we think about sitting in the sun. Let us reconsider how we think about casual conversation with friends. We may find that happiness can be attained quite inexpensively in the simple things life has to offer.

— S

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Real Beauty

Many people devote their time to beautifying their bodies while neglecting the health of their soul. Why focus so much on the transient appearance of beauty at the expense of real beauty? The health of your soul, or character, will endure far longer than your physical appearance. It is surely more deserving of your attention.

- Socrates

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Insatiable Desire

It seems obvious that our shoes should fit our feet. There is little point in wearing over sized shoes. The shoe should match the needs of the foot. Is it not also true that our other possessions should match our needs? We may be tempted to excess — to own more than we need, but there is little point. And in doing so, we may be depriving someone else of something they need. 

Think carefully about your needs. Beware the trap of insatiable desire and excess. Insatiable desire can never be satisfied and thus will never lead to contentment. 

- S


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Conspiracy Theories

A recent philosopher by the name of Karl Popper observed that a single piece of evidence can falsify a scientific theory. I, myself, made a similar observation back in Athens while dialoguing with friends in our search for true definitions. I found that a single counter example could serve as a refutation to a general claim. For example, while discussing friendship with my friend Lysis, we proposed that friendship could be defined as “like being attracted to like”. But when I suggested that bad people can’t really be friends with anyone — including other bad people — our initial idea was refuted, thus requiring us to find a better definition of friendship. So, it would appear that a claim is only good until counter evidence is discovered. This is a rule that underpins much reasoning in science and philosophy.

Now, here is my confusion. I have been looking at collections of ideas that you moderns call “conspiracy theories”. These are interesting phenomena to me because they seem to violate what I have said above. When conspiracy theorists are presented with counter evidence, they do not reject their theory. Rather, they take the counter evidence as further support of their theory. They reframe the counter evidence as evidence of the sophistication of the theory — as if the conspiracy was so well orchestrated that it includes its own counter evidence as a mechanism for covering up the truth. In this way, it seems that no evidence could ever be presented to refute a conspiracy theory. They are immune to counter example.

What should I conclude from this? If nothing else, I believe that there is little point in dialoguing with conspiracy theorists about the truth or falsity of their claims. For the conspiracy theorist, their claims should only ever be considered true. So there is nothing to discuss with them.

-- Socrates

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Love of wisdom

For many people, discussion is a battle to be won rather than a route to knowledge. We see this especially in political debates. But it is also common in non political conversations. I, myself, am not a lover of victory but a lover of wisdom. This is a point I made to my old friend Gorgias many years ago. I am happy to be refuted if I say something untrue just as I would happily refute someone else who has said something untrue. You see, my friends, I think it is a greater good to be refuted, for it releases one from the harm of carrying false beliefs. 

- Socrates

Take Care

Most people take great care when walking. After all, stepping on a nail can injure the foot. And stepping in mud can leave the foot unclean. 

This makes sense to me and yet I am often surprised to see how little care people take with their minds. Is it not true that our minds require the utmost care to avoid damage? When we step into certain thoughts we risk injury to our most precious of possessions — our character. Racial biases, xenophobia, and unreasoned superstitious beliefs are scattered everywhere throughout the world and we must take care to avoid them, lest they turn us into the very thing we may once have despised. 

Insofar as it makes sense to watch where we step to avoid damaging our feet, it seems to make equal sense to exercise caution with our minds. Let’s put reason first and let it keep our minds safe. In doing so we maintain the worthiness of our character. 

- Socrates