Monday, February 09, 2009

Thinking about Socrates

Spent the evening mulling over ideas for an image I'd want to grace the top of this blog.

I settled on a picture I took a few years back while on an overseas trip with about twenty-five students. We were high up in the mountains of Delphi -- the home of the ancient oracle of the Greeks.

Socrates's buddy Chaerephon had visited Delphi. In fact, that had become a major source of Socrates' problems. In the Apology, Plato tells us that when Chaerephon went up to Delphi, he asked whether Socrates was the wisest bloke around. And, as the story goes, the oracle told him: 'No one is wiser than Socrates'.

Of course, Socrates was the first guy to admit that he himself knew 'nothing'. So if 'no one is wiser than Socrates' and Socrates knows 'nothing'... well, you get the gist of why folks got so peeved at him.

Well, going over these photos from the trip to Greece, I remembered something else about Socrates: he never wrote anything down. In fact, in the Republic, Plato says that Socrates had a certain distrust of writing. He thought it was too permanent. He thought it was just far too easy to write something down and then forever after to consider whatever was written down to be the absolute truth.

In effect, Socrates was scared of knowledge becoming static. That's why he was always hanging out in the Stoa and the Agora. That's why he was always bothering people with all of his questions. Because he recognized something fundamental about knowledge: that it's dynamic and always changing and so dependent upon discussion and deeper and ongoing analysis and re-analysis.

I think Socrates would have felt right at home in a paperless classroom. In effect, he invented the first one.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely. And many of the best educators still make great use of the Socratic technique: simply ask a series of progressively probing and thought-provoking questions.


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