Thursday, August 31, 2017

Where can Philosophy take me?

He may know how to reason. He may know how to use reason in his job.
But does he understand what it means to live the good life?

Oh dear. I have been reading this article about the value of philosophy:

They seem to think that philosophy is valuable just because it prepares people for jobs. This idea sees philosophy as having instrumental value because it leads to something else. But those things only have instrumental value too, insofar as we want them because they lead to other things that we value.

One outcome philosophy leads to, which is not on the list, but is arguably of most value, is knowledge of oneself and what it means to live the good life. Why is so little attention given to this? If we want to promote the value of philosophy, we should include the things that make it most valuable. Certainly people need jobs, and philosophy might help people get jobs, but unless we can recognize what it means to live the good life, we may never actually live the good life. People want to live the good life, so they need to recognize what that means and how to achieve it. Therefore, it seems to me that this should be on the top of the list of where philosophy can take us. Philosophy has instrumental value insofar as it can lead one to live the good life, which is of intrinsic value.

-- Socrates

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Alas, relativism is alive and well

My old friend Protagoras said that "the human being is the measure of all things, of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not". He was a relativist and thought that every individual's points of view are true. Well, I examined his view and found it to be self contradictory.

Alas, it looks like relativism persists to this day.

This article expresses a concern about the rise of relativism:
O'Neill Skllful Faking

-- Socrates

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reason and Emotion

A recent dialogue with a good friend brought to light the question of the role emotion plays in reasoning, and, perhaps more importantly, the role faulty reasoning plays in emotion.

During our dialogue, I considered an example in which emotional reasoning was a priority factor in the making of a decision. A young person, who was terrified of flying, missed the opportunity of an overseas trip. She refused to get on the plane. Was she reasoning? Or was she acting on emotional impulse? I think she was reasoning, but her reasoning was emotional. Her emotional reasoning can be represented as premises and conclusion. It went like this:

P1. Because airplanes sometimes crash, if I fly in one my life is at risk

P2. Because I don't want to die, I should avoid putting my life at risk

C. Therefore, I will not get on that plane (accompanied with feelings of extreme fear)

The emotion set up a fight or flight response which kept her safe, on the ground, away from the plane. When I look at the emotional reasoning, I see that it is valid. However, careful analysis reveals missing information. There are no statistics included. It turns out that the likelihood of being involved in a plane crash is incredibly low. Now, if the young person included a premise which stated the probability of a plane crash, she might have been able to rework the argument and realize that flying is a rationally acceptable risk. And her feeling of fear may be reduced as a result.

Acting on one's initial emotional reasoning may lead one to miss opportunities. So, it seems to me that a rational examination of our emotional reasoning can help us live a better life. After all, the unexamined life is not worth living.

-- Socrates

Saturday, August 26, 2017

My dialog with Karl Marx

My prediction turned out to be true. In my cell, just before drinking from that cup, I predicted that I would somehow survive bodily death and continue my search for wisdom. Over the years since that day, I have questioned many thinkers--from ordinary folk on the street to influential philosophers and scientists. Most of my dialogues have been lost to history, but some have been carefully documented, including my discussion with Karl Marx.

Marx wanted to change the world. For him, the only reason to do philosophy is to change the way we live. He said "Philosophers have only interpreted the world; but the point is to change it". I can sympathize with this view, so I decided to examine his thoughts.

This dialogue with Karl Marx was documented by Peter Kreeft.

Here's the book length dialogue:
Socrates meets Karl Marx

-- Socrates

Friday, August 25, 2017

Aristophanes - Clouds

Clouds! That play caused me a lot of trouble. I didn't realize it at the time, but people started thinking differently about me after seeing that play. In those days, playwrights liked to make plays about real people. And for comedic effect, people were portrayed in their caricature form. So although it was me in the play, it was not the real me.

It was certainly funny. I laughed out loud at the silly lines. But I clearly would never say the things my character said. So, I decided to stand up so that people could see the real me. I just stood there for most of the play... motionless, allowing people to compare the character on stage with the real person (Navia 2007, Chapter 2). As it turned out, I think people preferred to remember the character rather than the real me. The reputation of that character stuck in people's minds and undoubtedly influenced their vote during my trial.

I am reading the play again. It still makes me laugh. Aristophanes came third place for his play. There were only three entries in the competition. I wonder if the people portrayed in the other plays were also executed.

Here's the play:
Aristophanes - Clouds

-- Socrates

Vlastos, Gregory (1991). Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Cambridge University Press
Navia, Luis E. (2007). Socrates: A Life Examined. Prometheus Books

The Devaluation of the Humanities

I was once very interested in metaphysics. And I wanted to know about science and the origin of the universe. But it soon occurred to me that there were matters of humanity that were left unanswered by these endeavors. How do I live a good life? What is a good life? It was at that time that I turned my attention to ethics.

There has been a recent devaluation of the humanities (as outlined in this article), including my beloved philosophy. Is this devaluation simply the result of our tendency to rate the value of things in economic terms? After all, the humanities doesn't generate much wealth. If so, the question I would ask is: why do we value economics? It seems to me that we must value it either for its own sake, or because it gets us something else. I don't think people value economics just for its own sake, so we must value it because it leads to something we want. But what is that? What do we really want? What should we really want? These are questions that economics can't answer. And human values exploration sit outside of the realm of science and technology. Answering questions about human values is the job of the humanities. So, if we want answers to these questions, we need the humanities. We need philosophy.

My life long mission has been to bring philosophy down from the heavens. I brought it to the city streets, and now I'm enjoying philosophy in the social media format of this century. We can keep the humanities alive, here, all of us.

-- Socrates

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Think Shop

I am considering a relaunch of our Think Shop. Many years ago a certain comedian misrepresented our Think Shop, and this lead me into trouble. In those days comedians had to caricature real people. It was the best way to get laughs from the audience. As if I am not funny enough already, my search for wisdom was twisted to make it an appealing subject for theatre. They laughed. I laughed. And Aristophanes won third prize for his comedy--not the best of achievements considering only three plays were entered.

The problem is, people left the theatre thinking of me as an atheist who spends his time questioning things that should not to be questioned, and encouraging young people to do the same. It is difficult to defend against a misrepresentation. Everything I did seemed to reinforce their impression of me. People saw me as a trouble maker. Many years later, I was placed on trial for these misdeeds. No-one wanted to say it, but I suspect they thought my teaching was partly responsible for the war. People didn't talk about the war. The citizens were bound by an oath never to mention the war. So atheism was the charge.

But that was a long time ago. Athens is a distant memory for me. It is distant in space too, since I now live thousands of miles away. I reside in the beautiful country New Zealand. It is a temporary home. One day I shall return to my beloved Athens. But in the meantime, this country is a safe haven. It is a good place for me to relaunch the Think Shop.
-- Socrates (NZ)

Thursday, August 17, 2017


A Socratic Dialogue

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Socrates is walking through the streets of Western Heights, a small town in the country of New Zealand. Feeling rather hungry, he decides to visit a café for food and coffee. As he is about to enter, he bumps into his old friend Greg, the owner of the café.

Socrates: It is good to see you Greg. It has been too long, my friend.
Greg: Two years I think.
Socrates: I remember last time we talked, you told me about your interest in opening your own café. Did you go ahead with this?
Greg: Yes indeed. This is my place. I have been running this café for nearly a year. It’s been hard work, but I think I’m now on top of things.
Socrates: I hear there are long hours involved in running cafés and other such businesses.
Greg: It is a seven-day a week job.
Socrates: If that is the case, it is no surprise that you say it is hard work. You surely deserve to take some time off. Do you employ staff?
Greg: Yes, I have a few part-time employees.
Socrates: Well, perhaps they can take care of business while you have a day off. You can turn a seven-day a week job into a six-day a week job.
Greg: I wish I could, but I can’t rely on the staff. I have had a bad run with employees. On more than one occasion I have caught them stealing from me.