May 17: Socrates, founder of Western know-it-allism.


In addition to his philosophical work, Socrates was also a great midfielder.

I suppose the first thing one could say about Socrates is that he is kind of a dick. Here we have his famous Apology, where he has been found guilty of youth-corruption and proposes that, as a penalty, he be fully subsidized by the state -- as if he were a coal company or something. And then, breaking it down for the jury, he says:

I had not the boldness or impudence or inclination to address you as you would have liked me to address you, weeping and wailing and lamenting, and saying and doing many things which you have been accustomed to hear from others, and which, as I say, are unworthy of me...I would rather die having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live.
As Macaulay said, "The more I read about Socrates, the less I wonder that they poisoned him." (A quote I got from a very good article here.)

But you can see why Socrates was the Jesus of Cool for intellectuals that didn't love Jesus . Us bookish types are always tempted by a sense of superiority; half the fun of being clever is being cleverer than. But it's not as much fun for the people who are being lorded over, some of whom are physically or financially stronger, so one learns a certain becoming modesty, when to hide one's light, how to avoid being killed by one's peers.

Socrates doesn't do any of this. Not only does he more or less dare the jury to kill him, he says they'll be sorry:
And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that immediately after my death punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you...For I say that there will be more accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom hitherto I have restrained.
And his brazenness, not to mention his straight-up manliness at taking his punishment -- which, come to think of it, he did mention -- becomes kind of admirable:
For which reason also, I am not angry with my accusers, or my condemners; they have done me no harm, although neither of them meant to do me any good; and for this I may gently blame them.

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways—I to die, and you to live. Which is better, God only knows.
"God only knows...Or maybe I do," he forgot to add.

UPDATE: My dad (who was a teacher and administrator) adds in an e-mail: "I remain a skeptic about the efficacy of the Socratic method. I didn't like Socrates when he did it, and I disagreed with Education gurus when they extolled it. It seems to me that what is actually learned in the process is how clever the "Socratic" interlocutor is rather that the lesson to be learned in the Q&A. Besides to make the "method" work requires a good straight man and they are hard to find."

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