Everything is aired in the bracing dialectic wind

From Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex:

Plato presents the journey to the light as a largely solitary one, though some unseen person does yank the prisoner out of the cave; but the format of the dialogues (as well as his having founded the Academy) encourages the view that, on the contrary, Plato conceived of philosophy as necessarily gregarious rather than solitary. The exposure of presumptions is best done in company, the more argumentative the better. This is why discussion round the table is so essential. This is why philosophy must be argumentative. It proceeds by way of arguments, and the arguments are argued over. Everything is aired in the bracing dialectic wind stirred by many clashing viewpoints. Only in this way can intuitions that have their source in societal or personal idiosyncrasies be exposed and questioned. [pp 38-9]

Good eh?


  1. says

    Damn good.

    I agree and I’d say also that philosophy must be argumentative because without argument, you can’t tell if you’re just being authoritarian. Attempts to silence are always authoritarian, because they reveal that the silencer is attempting to stifle discussion because they know, down inside, that their position will not withstand skeptical scrutiny.

    We should remember that the Athenians eventually silenced Socrates for asking too many questions. Socrates’ (per Plato) final argument was the Athens owed him a debt of gratitude, no banishment or death, because he helped sharpen Athenians’ perspectives by challenging them; leaving a person’s ideas un-examined lets them lie to themself and get away with it, they die a little bit whenever they do that.

  2. luzclara says

    yes. very good and inspiring. one reason why the “b/c I believe in it b/c religion and faith” is such a stupid thing to say.

  3. John Morales says

    Alas, the domain of applicability of the featured sentiment is quite limited by social circumstance; e.g. most comment threads on most blogs aren’t philosophical discussions.

  4. AMM says

    The problem with “argument” as a way to arrive at truth is that it only works if it is in fact an attempt to arrive at some shared truth between parties who respect one another. Socrates and Plato were ultra-privileged Athenians, carrying on their philosophical debates with equally privileged Athenians of their day, and even then, it was less about arriving at some agreed-upon truth than about (rhetorically) kicking the other guy’s ass. Socrates was the rhetorical Arnold Schwarzenegger of his time.

    In most debates in real life, the “argument” is actually a power struggle. Or propaganda in a power struggle. Usually between parties very unequal in power. Viz.: the abortion “debate.” Viz.: racism (in the USA, at least.) As they say, truth is the first casualty in war.

    For that matter, Socrates’ trial and execution were probably less because of philosophy and more because Athens had just lost the Peloponesian war and been conquered by Sparta and they were looking for people to blame. Socrates, by being critical of Athenian policies, was an obvious target.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    AMM @ # 4: Socrates, by being critical of Athenian policies, was an obvious target.

    Socrates, by being friendly with and arguing for certain Spartan factions, painted a bullseye on himself – read I.F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates for the gory details.

  6. says

    Goodish but not complete.

    Dialectic is a good end game to take two sets of perception and find only the sound parts of each to create a synthesis.

    This misses the other part of combining perceptions, mapping commonalities and differences, in mutual exploration.

    When dialectic is the first step there is a focus on winning the argument and withholding knowledge or perspectives that will help “the enemy”.

    Good thinking is a three step dance:

    1) reveal your points of view and map them together. Find common views and areas where your views diverge.

    2) move from your discovered points of view to alternatives, and discover new perspectives jointly.

    3) Take those parts of your new map that you wish to test and test them for accuracy, correctness, strength and feasibility. Look for truth value, but don’t assume Boolean true and false, as real knowledge rarely falls so well into those extremes. Consider the full range of values from 0.0 through 0.5 to 1.0. Acknowledge approximations to truth and short hands that are workable in certain situations and the boundary of their validity.

  7. says

    It wasn’t intended to be “complete”; it’s a passage from a longer paragraph which is part of a chapter. It’s a complete thought, in my view, and that’s all that’s needed for an excerpt.

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