Sunday, March 26, 2017

Knowledge and Truth

In Book VI of the Republic, Socrates claims that the highest form of wisdom is truth, and then goes on to say that a philosopher should be preoccupied with finding every kind of truth. I found this phrasing to be interesting. By saying there are different kinds of truths, does Socrates mean the truth about various subjects, or that truth comes in multiple forms? I think the second interpretation is more interesting, though I'm not sure that's what Plato intended. Is Socrates potentially saying that truth is not just what is clearly real, that perhaps a different lens is needed in order to understand all the different kinds of truths in the world? And if so, how does the limitation of artists in the city of words lead to or hinder the pursuit of truth?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Individual in the Republic

I was intrigued by our discussion before break on the allusions to gender equality made in Book IV. I think it was Clara who found particular fault with viewing Socrates as believing that women are capable in the same way men are, and I am inclined to agree with her. However, I think the formation of this city of words, though it is a macrocosm of the individual, disregard the individual so entirely that issues of equality of any sort, for anyone, cannot be addressed. Obviously, this city of words can be constructed so that women are disenfranchised or not, but in the end I think everyone under this political regime would become disenfranchised from their own internal motivations and passions.

Of course, this is an extremely basic understanding of the city of words, and I suppose it would be possible for every individual to achieve their happiness through the state being able to identify their true purpose and role, as we have discussed. Still, I am uncomfortable with this seeming loss of self-determination. Moreover, I wonder if this should even be something I'm concerned about, as Socrates states time and time again that this city is not for practical construction, and is symbolic of the individual.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Themes of Paternalism in the Republic

I have been thinking about the many different forms of paternalism in the Republic, and how Socrates is not immune to using forms of manipulation when talking with other people. In the city of words that Socrates and the other men are constructing, where a "ruler as such" is the ultimate paternal figure, it seems impossible for people to do what Socrates continually entreats them to do: think critically on their own. Socrates' very method of conversing with individuals and acting as a catalyst for them to examine themselves and their society seems counter to any notion of the sort of city that is being constructed, so I do believe Socrates actually believes a city should be constructed in the way they are talking about. However, there still seems to be a paradox, and that is that Socrates wants individuals to think for themselves, but he uses rhetorical tricks to appeal to them. While we can say that this is alright because, unlike a sophist, Socrates does this because he truly wants to help the young men of Athens, but that seems rather consequential to me, and I am still not sure how comfortable I am with the implications of curtailing individuals' freedoms of thought and choice, both in the city of words and Socrates' method of teaching.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Student Engagement and the Socratic Method

The dynamic of the Republic is different from that of the other dialogues by Plato we have encountered so far, in that Socrates is engaging with multiple people at once, leading him to constantly change his tactics as he interacts with each individual student. Socrates possesses a kind of charisma and ability to understand the people around him to a degree in the Republic that is only hinted at in other dialogues.
This leads me to wonder about the degree of personalized learning and the relationships between students and educators in our own context. Learning, in my opinion, happens best when it takes place in an atmosphere of trust and respect, two factors which I think are missing in a lot our public schools, for various reasons. Do to factors in how our compulsory education system is structured, many students are never able to engage with their peers and educators, and unfortunately never experience the kind of intellectual pursuit, in a spirit of camaraderie, that Socrates and his partners in conversation are taking up in the Republic.
A few questions I am considering:
Is it possible for the kind of learning environment present in the Republic to take place in large classes?
To what degree should teachers seek to personalize their lessons for each individual student, and when does that pursuit become impractical?
How do the power dynamics of traditional classrooms contribute to an open learning environment?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Abstract Concepts and Subjective Experience

I am intrigued still by Socrates' practice of moving conversations from the specifics of peoples' lives to more abstract concepts in order to defuse emotional tension in dialogue. This strategy seems to be quite effective in facilitating arguments, as opposed to disagreements based on subjective experience to which solutions can rarely be found.
I wonder how this way of framing dialogues works in our modern context, understanding that it seldom occurs. There seems to be an emphasis placed on individual experience and identity in our culture now, and while this kind of thinking about the external world and our relation to it may have its place, it may also jeopardize our ability to find common ground or transcend ourselves. Moreover, I find that this way of thinking often presupposes that direct experience with something is the only (or best) way to acquire knowledge about it, a notion with which I'm sure we could find fault.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Characters and Conversation

Similar to Socrates' conversation with Euthyphro, Socrates is trying to define an abstract concept while talking with Meno; instead of piety, they are attempting to understand virtue. However, it seems clear that the tone of the conversation is different with Meno than it was with Euthyphro. Rather than intimidating and potentially offending Euthyphro's sense of knoweldge, Socrates seems to see more of an intellectual equal in Meno, and so their conversation is freer. I do not mean to imply that Socrates did take seriously what Euthyphro said--only that the conversation was halted in ways due to the naive character of Euthyphro. To that extant, I wonder how each conversation on the dialogues would be altered if they took place between different characters? Would Plato have written the same twists in conversation had he written the words for other characters? Moreover, could these conversations even have been conjured by Plato so as to have occurred between different people?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Hoi Polloi

I am interested in Socrates' and Crito's discussion of concerning themselves with only what is true, and not what the masses believe to be so. While of course something is not true just because people believe it is, and there should always be an emphasis on people reevaluating their preconceived notions of the world, to what extant should the larger population's opinions and "truths" be ignored? To some extant, reality is created, either by individuals, or by groups of people to form a culture. Even the reality of Socrates, as we all know, is created to an extant by the people who knew him in his life or wrote about him many years later.
I am a little concerned that Socrates' focus on truth, and not the hoi polloi, sets up an early example of an intellectual ivory tower, where people who think they have a better understanding of how to determine what is true alienate others and indirectly invalidate their experiences and intelligence. I think this is especially relevant given the current political climate and societal stratification, where everyone has access to different "facts" and almost no capability to find rhetorical common ground.
Should there be more of a pursuit to understand the truths of other people, even if they are not factually correct? And what role do people who have access to better, more accurate information have in spreading that knowledge in a way free of condescension and any sort of political or moral agenda?