“Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am. “), Descartes famous basis for his philosophy of Cartesianism, is also compelling evidence towards the defense of one of the most famous of the early Greek teachers, Socrates. In order to be, one must think. Socrates was a seeker of truth, and the highest knowledge is knowing what is best for oneself and one”s community. He was penalized and served the ultimate sentence for his belief in the true nature of education. He was blamed for opposing the authoritative belief that education had the sole purpose of transmitting social mores intact.
He believed instead that education was meant to examine and re-evaluate social norms for the betterment of society. It was his re-evaluation of social norms that was perceived as dangerous by his society. This leads to the question, “Is it dangerous to think to much? ” Is it sometimes better to let things be, in order to keep the peace? One of the many charges brought against Socrates was the charge of corrupting the youth with his teachings. Instead of letting the laws govern their lives, he was attempting to show his pupils ways of rationalizing their own world.
God originally gave mankind free will so that we would not become a bunch of robots walking around doing his bidding, and yet this is what traditions were doing. The customs of early Athens were limiting on what a person could or could not believe. Socrates believed independent thought in itself could never be bad. It is what one does with this knowledge that determines its worth. Socrates believed that “self-knowledge” is different from the “knowledge of information” that had been handed down from generation to generation.
Socrates was more concerned with ethical knowledge: self-understanding means self-improvement. Not only must one know what it means to be a human being and understand one’s own character (and how it falls short of the ideal), but knowing better means doing better. Knowledge becomes a virtue. One must transform one’s own character in the light of one’s vision of what is best. Socrates believed true knowledge or human wisdom was not abstract information or facts that filled the brain. It is knowledge that transforms character, brings order to a disorderly life, refines attitude, and makes one better.
This self-understanding that Socrates taught his pupils is actually beneficial to a community. When one has order in their lives, it is easier for them to bring order to the world around them. When you smile the world cannot help smiling too. Conversely, when one allows himself to be corrupted, he corrupts the society around them. Self-improvement equals social reform. At the same time, social reform requires knowledge of what is best for the community (as a whole). Thus, since self-improvement and social reform are interdependent, self-knowledge and knowledge of social justice are also interdependent.
Ethics is inseparable from politics and individual good is inseparable from the common good. Therefore, by teaching the youth to think without worrying about following tradition, Socrates not only helps them enhances themselves, but he improves society in general. There still remains the question as to whether or not this constant inquiry into the world can be detrimental. Without pioneers of thought, pioneers of action would never exist. As science progresses through time, more and more of its theories are being put into development.
Although the progress of science has greatly enhanced society and the world we live in, there are many cases where an invention or discovery managed to set society back. One of the best examples of this is weapons of mass destruction, more specifically, the A-bomb. No one would disagree that this was a terrible thing to create; even the inventor had hesitations when he figured out what he was doing. Still he made it, and as society progress, it progressively develops newer and more destructive weapons.
The irony is that the leaders of society are the people pushing for the bigger and better weapons, for the sake a guaranteeing public safety. Yet as more and more weapons are created the inevitable mass destruction of all societies becomes evident. In this way, Socratic thought and the quest for knowledge is detrimental to a society. Pure Socratic belief is best summed up by his saying, “the unexamined life is not worth living. ” Many of Socrates adversaries believed that this principle was an open invitation for anarchy.
Examining life leads to new ideas that do not necessarily conform with the beliefs of society. This causes great movements of revolution. Socrates believed these movements were a great tool in the advancement of civilization. One great proof against this idea is the rise of Hitler and communism. Hitler examined his life and found that the Jews were the source of all his problems. He therefore decided to kill as many of them that he could. His ultimate goal was genocide. In this case the personal thoughts of an individual did not help the advancement of society.
The new debate becomes, “Is it justifiable to condemn a person for Socratic behavior? ” The answer is no. Everyone should be allowed to quest for knowledge. That is why the necessity for a college education in the modern world is so strong. Society needs thinkers. What is condemnable is the specific actions that are taken as a result of some of these thoughts. Hypothesizing about what a weapon of mass destruction can do and testing it out on innocent people and animals are two different things. Many people criticize Socrates for not being a man of action.
All Socrates ever accomplished was questioning and probing the democratic beliefs of his day. He built nothing, and he wrote nothing, all he did was think, and a person cannot be condemned for their thoughts. In the big picture, people should be encouraged to think for themselves, to decide what they are going to believe and what they are going to dismiss as fiction. Society has the right to punish a man”s actions if they are causing harm to society, but expressing a view other than popular opinion is not harmful to society.
In actuality, contemplation can help to resolve many of society”s problems. Meditation on a problem leads to possible solutions to the problem, and in essence, progress. By examining oneself, a person gains better insight into who they are, and where their place in society is. This allows them to become more secure with themselves and more efficient in the community. Socratic behavior is about examining everything in order to gain knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge is not condemnable as long as no one is getting hurt.
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