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Remembering Socrates and disciplined dialogue


i was remembering his analogy of the ship at sea in a storm, and that democracy is not well suited (his conclusion not mine)for voting in the right person to take the wheel, that what we really want is the best captain at that moment of storm, regardless of whatever other short comings he may have personally beyond the immediate needs of the moment. So what if he is a bigot, he will get us safely to shore where we will re-educate him in proper thinking what makes rhetoric so potentially insidious is how easily the mob can be swayed into thinking that we are in times of crisis.

Of course, there are times when we actually are, but the language is the same and only critical thinking can distinguish between real crisis and manufactured for political or other purposes. “S” like his Roman counterpart Cincinnatus, served his term honorably, and then left it all behind, selflessly.

And yet Socrates had a soft spot in his heart for Alcibiades, who represented one of the gravest threats to the young democracy until Sparta won. Selfless service is an ideal of our Army, an explicit value, and one we recognize and honor in others. who give the last full measure of devotion. i think we can rise to that upon peak occasions, and some exemplify it routinely to a greater degree than others, but i think it has the same problems as pure objectivity, in that both represent, in their purest form, an absolute that seems almost inhuman, unsustainable and not something you can base an entire profession on without checks and balances

Even those who act most selflessly by sacrificing themselves for others, in war for example or in fire & rescue, have not set aside their self-hood. i believe rather, that they sacrifice the self in full knowledge of what it means to give that up for the selfhood of others.

If critical times are moments when the old ways are passiong but not yet fully given way to a new order, then perhaps the chaos around us is a time when we need critical thinking more than ever? A touchstone in rimes of crisis, and a guard against complacency and unwarranted assumptions/complacency by the majority in times of comfort?

ever watchful, onward

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  1. Terry Lesniak
    August 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Does the dialectic of Socrates give meaning to his death at the hands of the state?

    Critical thinking is one thing, but whose critical thinking is the “right critical thinking?”

  2. August 22, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    I think the manner of his death (and he chose that script) was an essential part of his dialogue. we think more of him and about him because of the choice he made to follow the deep meaning of his lifelong commitment to independent inquiry and intellectual integrity.

    if, after a 70 year life (if memory serves), a life full of preachments on the importance of living up to the consequences of your thoughts, he had elected to make his escape in order to preserve what remained of his life, the state would have been very satisfied, because it would have reinforced their view of what mattered most in life: power and the ability to coerce thru swaying the mob. if a philosopher such as Socrates would succumb to the expediency of seeking life and escape at the expense of remaining true to his ideals, the message is sent to the rest of the polis that matters of comfort and expediency are to be prized above intellectual integrity.

    By all accounts Socrates was a man who appreciated the joys of life as well as the contemplation of the mysteries of the human experience, so we really couldnt’ blame him for seeking to extend his life, but what makes him one of the great ones was his strength of character, a way for him to make the most convincing argument of his life, in the manner in which he chose to give meaning to his death.

    His sacrifice gives power to the critical thinking and debate between man and the state.

  3. Terry Lesniak
    August 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    The sacrificial lamb is wasted when the state is absolved of its responsibility to its constituents. Socrates needed to take “intellectual integrity” to a higher level and structure his dialectic within a framework of moral consequence (that lack of moral consequence exhibited by the state.) Intellectual integrity in a vacuum has no validity.

    Maybe Socrates was tired of life…tired of being the “gadfly” and being constantly reminded of the lack of substantial intellectual substance to the population at the time (no wonder his antipathy towards democracy.)

    Socrates was certainly no Diederich Bonheiffer, the German theologian who also could have avoided his own death by hanging, but he decided his heart and soul was in Germany where he could best give strength to his people against Hitler and the Nazis.

    Whereas Socrates absolved the state, Bonheiffer fought against it.

    Thought and action combined create change. Socrates seemed to me to be more of an iconic religious figure than a philosopher. A platonic construct so to speak rather than a flesh and blood man. His soft spot for Alcibiades (in which they both saved each others lives in battle)gives him a more human context for me.

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