Philosophy Bites Back: The Socratic Method

Philosophy Bites Back: The Socratic Method

Philosophy Bites Back by David Edmonds provides an insightful interview on Montaigne, which capitalideasonline posted today. First a little on the book and then an excerpt from Capital Ideas Online…

A wonderful interview on the Socratic Method from the book, “Philosophy Bites Back” by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. Investors could learn a lot from Socrates – open-mindedness, continuous questioning, challenging assumptions.

“David Edmonds: According to the dictionary, a question is an expression of inquiry that invites a reply. No figure in the history of ideas has been more associated with the question than Socrates – one of the founders of western philosophy. He gives his name to a type of investigation through dialogue – the so-called Socratic method. His questions and truth seeking so annoyed the Athenians that he was tried and found guilty of corrupting young minds. His punishment – in 399 B.C – was death through drinking hemlock. Professor M. M. McCabe of King’s College London, submitted herself to a rigorous questioning by Philosophy Bites.

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Nigel Warburton: We’re going to talk about Socratic method; that’s the method of Socrates. But who was Socrates?

M. M. McCabe: Socrates lived in Athens in the fifth century B.C. He was ugly and disreputable to look at, but a striking and compelling character – so much so that when he asked, people answered: he commanded attention all the time from his interlocutors. But this caused some difficulty in Athens because the questions he asked were uncomfortable ones – deep questions about why they did what they did, both individually and collectively -and the Athenians didn’t like that much. They thought that somehow he was responsible for subversive elements in the state and in particular for some of the political difficulties in which Athens was embroiled at the end of the fifth century. So at the age of 70, in 399 B.C, Socrates was executed: given hemlock to drink. He left a huge legacy to the rest of western philosophy.

NW: And part of his legacy is the portrayal of Socrates in Plato’s writing. Plato was one of his pupils and wrote superbly about Socrates.

MMM: That’s right. There are in fact several different sources for Socrates’ life. There’s a ribald play by Aristophanes, the Clouds; there’s some rather hagiographic material by Xenophon; and there are other Socratic works. But the most important Socratic material is the collection of dialogues that Plato wrote in which Socrates was the main speaker: works about his life, his death, and his conversations with those luckless people who were trying to live their ordinary lives when Socrates called them to account.

NW: But it’s very important that we have these, because Socrates himself didn’t write anything down.

MMM: He wrote nothing; he was probably too busy talking. He supposed that what we should be doing is all the time asking questions of others and of ourselves about what it is we think, about what we’re doing, and what it is to think about what we’re doing: questions, that is to say, both about matters ethical and about matters epistemological. Let me give you an example: there was an Athenian called Euthyphro who was an expert on religion. Socrates meets him when they are both on their way to court: Socrates to defend himself against the charge of which he was convicted, Euthyphro to prosecute his own father for the manslaughter of one of his own slaves. Socrates says to Euthyphro: ‘hang on a minute, are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ and Euthyphro says: ‘yes, of course I know what I’m doing, I am an expert’. Socrates’ investigation is in part about whether Euthyphro is right to think that what he’s doing is right. But the most significant thing about his discussion with Euthyphro is his investigation about what it would be to know such a thing, what sorts of claims you make when you say, ‘I know that prosecuting my father is the right thing to do’. So the discussion always works at that double level, both an account of the particular question at hand, and an account of what conditions there would be on answering it.

NW: This kind of discussion is actually an example of what we call the Socratic method -where Socrates meets somebody, challenges their assumptions, and through asking difficult questions teases out just how little they know.

MMM: Exactly. What he’s trying to explain to us is not only how little they know but how little they understand about what it would be to know something. What we understand as the Socratic method is this business of continuous questioning; but we need to notice how complex that turns out to be. One has to think about the logic of the Socratic method as well; when he considers somebody’s position in this sort of question and answer, what he is looking at is a collection of views that they hold, rather than investigating some single proposition and working out whether it’s true or false. So Socrates is trying to see how everything that a person believes fits together. You can see how this makes the Socratic method a very complicated and deeply controversial process, because you’re asking people the most extraordinarily impertinent questions about what they really think, and forcing them to face the exceedingly uncomfortable thought that what they think is somehow incoherent or inconsistent, or dismally incomplete.

Full Article via CapitalIdeasOnline

Philosophy Bites Back – Description

Philosophy Bites Back by David Edmonds

Philosophy Bites Back is the second book to come out of the hugely successful podcast Philosophy Bites. It presents a selection of lively interviews with leading philosophers of our time, who discuss the ideas and works of some of the most important thinkers in history. From the ancient classics of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, to the groundbreaking modern thought of Wittgenstein, Rawls, and Derrida, this volume spans over two and a half millennia of western philosophy and illuminates its most fascinating ideas.

Philosophy Bites was set up in 2007 by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. It has had over 12 million downloads, and is listened to all over the world.

Philosophy Bites Back – Review

“Engaging and accessible … Readers can enjoy each chapter individually or read the entire book for an understanding of major figures of Western philosophy. As was the first, Philosophy Bites Back is highly recommended for all general readers with an interest in philosophy.” –Scott Duimstra, Library Journal

“As a fan of the Philosophy Bites podcast, I’m very pleased to see this publication of conversations with leading scholars on major figures in the history of philosophy. The result is not only a good introduction to that history, but a rare chance to read top-level philosophers speaking extemporaneously about the subjects they know best. Even regular listeners to the podcast will be glad to have this written version of highlights from the series.” –Peter Adamson, King’s College London

About the Authors of Philosophy Bites Back

David Edmonds is an award-winning documentary maker for the BBC World Service. He is the author or co-author (with John Eidinow) of several books, including Wittgenstein’s Poker (short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award), Bobby Fischer Goes To War (long-listed for the Samuel Johnson prize), and Rousseau’s Dog (about the relationship between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume). He is currently a Research Associate at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University and a Contributing Editor for Prospect Magazine.

Nigel Warburton is a freelance philosopher, podcaster, and writer. His books include A Little History of Philosophy, Philosophy: the Basics, Thinking from A to Z, Philosophy: the Classics, The Art Question, and Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction.

Philosophy Bites Back: On Doubt

There is an insightful interview on Montaigne in the book “Philosophy Bites Back” by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. Investors may want to look at how Montaigne “accepted that everything was in doubt, but he seemed quite happy to live with that”. Reading Montaigne allows one “to avoid being too sure of one’s self.”

“David Edmonds: Academics, writers, and journalists owe Michel de Montaigne a debt of gratitude, for Montaigne can claim to have invented the literary form known as the essay. Montaigne was born near Bordeaux in 1533 and died in 1592. In his essays, he addressed himself to a variety of subjects and drew on his own experiences: his reading, his travels, the people he’d met, his beliefs and feelings. The topics he discussed ranged from international affairs to his sex life, to his pet dog. Many great thinkers have been influenced by Montaigne and he retains a following today. His admirers include Sarah Bakewell, author of a book about Montaigne: How to Live, or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.

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