Archive for the ‘Socrates’ Category
Generally for the ancient Greeks, to be a philosopher was to seek and obtain an all-inclusive knowledge. Thus the philosopher, as the Greeks understood it, sought to understand the whole of reality. The goal was to know reality in its basic structure, not in all its multifarious detail, for it was assumed that the details of one’s existence become intelligible when one understood them in relation to the whole. To use a metaphor from the building trade, the Greek philosopher was one who sought to understand the framework in relation to which all the details of existence were set. A house is the totality of its parts, but only when organized in a certain way, since a pile of building materials is not a house. It is the framer who gives the house its basic shape or structure; all the details of a house are set in relation to the framework. By analogy, for the ancient Greeks, philosophy was the attempt at understanding the framework of Being, the basic “shape or structure” of reality, in relation to which all the details of existence were set.
Socrates was one of the few teachers who actually died for his craft, executed by the Athenian authorities for supposedly corrupting the young. Most learning professionals will have heard of the ‘Socratic method’ but few will know that he never wrote a single word describing this method, fewer still will know that the method is not what it is commonly represented to be. How many have read the Socratic dialogues?
How many know what he meant by his method and how he practised his approach? Socrates, in fact, wrote absolutely nothing. It was Plato and Xenophon who record his thoughts and methods through the lens of their own beliefs. We must remember, therefore, that Socrates is in fact a mouthpiece for the views of others. In fact the two pictures painted of Socrates by these two commentators differ hugely. In the Platonic Dialogues he is witty, playful and a great philosophical theorist, in Xenophon he is a dull moraliser.
Dialogue has suffered a long eclipse in the history of philosophy and the history of rhetoric but has enjoyed a rebirth in the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Martin Buber, and Mikhail Bakhtin. Among twentieth-century figures, Bakhtin took a special interest in the history of the dialogue form. This book explores Bakhtin’s understanding of Socratic dialogue and the notion that dialogue is not simply a way of persuading others to accept our ideas, but a way of holding ourselves, and others, accountable for all of our thoughts, words, and actions. In supporting this premise, Bakhtin challenges the traditions of argument and persuasion handed down from Plato and Aristotle, and he offers, as an alternative, a dialogical rhetoric that restructures the traditional relationship between speakers and listeners, writers and readers, as a mutual testing, contesting, and creating of ideas. The author suggests that Bakhtin’s dialogical rhetoric is not restricted to oral discourse, but is possible in any medium, including written, graphic, and digital.