*Disclaimer: If you’ve not read any of Plato’s works, this rebuttal may not make much of any sense. For further reference, see Plato’s Apology, Republic, and my personal favorite, Phaedo.
I have to ask Brandon Griefe who recently wrote an opinion piece entitled Obama: A pupil of Socrates a sincere question:
Are you serious?!
You cannot honestly believe you’re the only person to have ever trivialized the greatest philosopher known to modern society. You may, however, be the only person who has written an opinion piece on Obama and Socrates being similar.
Politics does make for strange bedfellows as the saying goes, but you are making a big stretch by putting Obama and Socrates even on the same page.
Let me be straight: Obama is the polar opposite of Socrates. While the failings of President Obama are many and clearly obvious to a lot of us, I will take particular contention with your opinions on Socrates and Plato in regards to government driven society.
The last thing I wanted to see with healthcare reform was the bill heralded by the left and ultimately passed. I do care for poor, disenfranchised people and that is exactly why I do not want them to have government bureaucrats dictating their care or mine!
We can joke all day long about how inefficient and burdensome the DMV is, but when people’s lives are on the line, you have to draw a line. Allowing for competition in the marketplace by eliminating the virtual monopolies insurance providers have by not being allowed to offer service across state lines would have been a step in the right direction.
We have to reject the notion of privatizing profits, and socializing costs. The healthcare reform did little to fix this problem.
What government recently did, and it looks like we agree on this point to some small degree Brandon, is the exact opposite of what it should have.
I’d like to introduce to you the first person to ever question to the point of death government injustice. His name was Socrates.
He and President Obama have nothing in common.
In essence, Brandon, you summarize the Socratic outlook as a very base belief that “people should not be self-governing.”
This viewpoint is indeed held by many; mainly high-school drop-outs whose background in Plato’s works on Socrates consist of Wikipedia searches and Cliff’s Notes.
In all sincerity, though, it really does frustrate me when people take a high-school observation of an obviously complex subject such as the writings of Plato. To say that the philosophy of Socrates can be summarized as “people are too dumb to govern themselves,” is to miss the entire beauty of Plato’s writing on Socrates.
Not to mention the fact that you ironically prove Socrates right by saying he is wrong, and you are right. Socrates repeatedly stated that the only reason he was more intelligent than anyone else was that he knew, he knew nothing while everyone claimed false beliefs as knowledge.
Understand where he is coming from? You’re committing a very basic philosophical error here, Brandon.
Specifically, though, I would like to know how someone who was murdered at the hands of the Athenian government for practicing the philosophy of questioning (it’s not like he invented it — it’s called the Socratic method for a reason, you know) is somehow advocating government control over people’s lives and livelihoods in some tyrannical fashion.
Really, you couldn’t get it more wrong.
I know your article was specifically referencing Plato’s Apology, but the undertones suggest that you are pulling your conclusions from one his other more famous works, The Republic.
Sure, you may look at Plato’s Republic and think Socrates merely wanted a leveled society governed by philosopher kings who could do no wrong, but taking that opinion ignores the core of the message, the truthful part.
Think of it this way: when Plato establishes the three cities in The Republic, he is also describing the three portions of the soul that correspond with them. Namely, the appetitive portion (animalistic — e.g., sex, food, desires), the honor-seeking portion (e.g., serving humanity or warrior mentalities), and the philosopher portion (e.g., the love of wisdom and truth).
Plato’s goal throughout The Republic was not to rewrite the laws for humanity to establish a stringently hierarchical society. Instead, Plato was describing and advocating for a well ordered structure of the soul.
Yes, the soul. If you have not read Plato’s Phaedo, you should. Nevertheless, thinking in this light brings more twists into the equation, but it also solidifies his goal — for people to question their supposed superiors and to maximize nothing other than truth by using philosophical questioning.
“The life left unexamined is not worth living,” famously said Socrates.
And you are to expect me to believe that somehow Nancy Pelosi’s condescending statement “we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it,” is akin to the philosophy of Socrates?
They are far from similar, more like diametrically opposed!
In the Apology, Socrates further displays his unwillingness to support the Athenian government by addressing his accusers directly. “They would not want me to tell the truth, I’m sure,” he says, “that they have been proved to lay claim to knowledge when they know nothing.”
You see, Socrates is by no means supporting the notion that government can and will do right.
His primary priority in life was to better the soul by suppressing animalistic urges and desires, and to develop and understand objective (or at least as objective as possible) truths about the world around us. Furthermore, he aimed to question Athenian dogma for the sake of finding the guiding principles of a just society.
His findings were simple, and you don’t even have to look much further than Plato’s Apology.
In essence, Socrates found that the just society must stem from the individual and not from the state.
The state lies, cheats, steals, and in general manipulates information to advance the agenda of whoever has the reigns of power.
Socrates did not care so much for who had the reigns of power, he cared much more about the individuals in society. If society was built up of philosophers, in the strictest sense of the term in that they loved and consistently sought out truth and wisdom, then no politician would be able to lie to the people.
Justice: It’s what Socrates was after all along and he was fully aware of just how unjust government will generally be.
I would like you to please humor me a bit more, Brandon, by contending with the following question: Does the below quote even remotely look like it could ever be written by President Obama?
[…] no man will survive who generally opposes [the Athenian Counsel] or any other crowd and prevents the occurrence of many unjust and illegal happenings in the city. A man who really fights for justice must lead a private, not a public, life if he is to survive for even a short time.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here, since the subject matter is philosophy; Michael Moore would run the NY City Marathon before President Obama would even think such thoughts.
I hope you can begin to see just how distrusting Socrates is of government. I mean, after all, he was right; government did kill him.
Right now, what do you see happening in America?
It’s very similar to what was happening to Socrates but, thankfully, without the threat of death looming overhead.
Those of us who oppose the injustice of big government are currently being torn to shreds by the analogical Athenian Counsel. We’re being labeled with lies now just as Socrates was then.
Fortunately for us, society has progressed exponentially since the days of the hypocritical phrase “Athenian democracy.” However, the slander and dishonesty about those who stand up for truth, justice, and the betterment of the individual continue on nonetheless.
We would do well to understand that the trial of Socrates is happening right now in America.
We who stand for the values of strong communities, educated people, limited government, and a sincere focus on justice through truth are modern day Socrates.
While, on the other hand, the Obama administration, and even his new appointment Dr. Donald Berwick, are playing the role of the crooked Athenian Counsel as they cast lies and baseless attacks on people just like you and me. Even more insidiously, these sophists position themselves as the compassionate, understanding parties no matter how elitist they really are.
I do not believe the two stories will play out the same in the end, but I do know that the same tactics are being used by big government bureaucrats as were utilized by the opponents of individualism in antiquity.
Brandon, Socrates is an ally, not an opponent.
If you disagree with the real message of Socrates, you are a part of the problem of big government and not the solution.