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

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Know thyself

Of the many things spoken about me, two quotes appear time and time again. The first, 'the unexamined life is not worth living', was part of my defense during my infamous trial. The second, 'know thyself', was important to me, but did not originate in my mind. Rather, it was an inscription near the entrance of the Temple of Delphi. Regardless of its origin, I offered it as advice to many of my friends.

If you wish to progress in your moral or intellectual life, you must know who you are. This knowledge provides a starting point for learning. Some people pretend to be something they are not, and in doing so they fail to recognize areas in which they may develop. Is it not true that if I think I am morally perfect, I am unlikely to seek improvement? Or, if I think I have great knowledge, I might not be open to new ideas? Or, if I think I am supremely talented, I may stop practicing my craft? Knowing who I am keeps me grounded and helps me become a better person.

So, if you truly wish to be the best person you can be, start by figuring out who you are. Look inward. Examine your life. Know thyself.

-- Socrates

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Dignity of the Soul

 I cannot count the number of times I have witnessed people damaging the health of their soul. It can happen in many ways. The most common involves groups of people who mutually push each other to complain about people who are not present. I ask, "is this just?" Usually the response is, "well, she deserves it because she is such a terrible person", or some such thing. There is often some action or offense that underpins this thinking. Still, I maintain, that if the person is not there to defend themselves, then the complainers may have it all wrong. And in acting this way, they are damaging their own souls rather than putting right any offense that may have occurred.

Now, some will ask, "what do I mean when I use the term soul?" A wise and fair question. Where I use this word, you may use the word character. So, when I speak of damage to the soul, I am referring to the character of the person.

Try to conduct yourself in a manner that best protects the dignity of your soul, or character. When you find yourself being pulled into circles of complaint of gossip, hold yourself to a higher standard. Remind your friends that it is best to talk to the person themself rather than to criticize them behind their back. After all, by talking to the person, we may learn something new about them. We might discover that there are good reasons for their action. We may even find ourselves in a position to offer help and advice.

- Socrates

Monday, September 28, 2020

Does feeling good make something good?

I had a most interesting conversation with my friend Paul yesterday. We were deliberating over his passionate addiction to rich food and wine. I asked him whether these things are good, to which he replied "undoubtedly, yes".

I questioned his answer, because he never really seems to put much thought into his habit of eating and drinking. He said that because it makes him feel good, they must be good, so he indulges. But is this true? Does feeling good make something good?

I suggested that next time a bodily pleasure calls to him that he pause and think before accepting the call. I said, "ask yourself whether this pleasure is fleeting or lasting. Will it endure? Will it improve your strength of character? What sort of person will it make you?"

He did not seem convinced that such questions would be of any use. Still, I maintain that if we can calmly distinguish between fleeting bodily pleasures, which we often regret, and the pleasures of the mind, which contribute to the health of our soul, we will find ourselves making wise decisions and living the good life.

- Socrates