Here we go again, philosophy – Socratic Questioning

A while ago (there’s an understatement for you), I started writing about philosophy and how you can get into the whole field of doing philosophy when you’re not studying the subject. Today, we are going a bit further, and I’m going to show you how you can do philosophy without reading. Whaaaat? Yes, you don’t have to read to be a philosopher.* I bet you already ARE a philosopher, because it is very human to be one. We all have questions. Questions that cannot be answered in a completely satisfying manner by science or religion or the occult.

Have you ever asked yourself, why the sky is blue?

Have you ever asked yourself, what trust is, or friendship, or if you have to love somebody just because you belong to the same family? Or if lying is wrong under any circumstances?

Have you ever asked yourself what happens when people die?

Have you ever asked yourself, if rainbows look the same to everybody?

Or why your face looks so different in photographs, so different from your image in the mirror?

You did? Well, congratulations! You are a junior philosopher, welcome to the castle of curiosity.

*Actually, reading is quite the new idea, and people have been filousofying without writing anything down or reading anything for hundreds and hundreds of years. Socrates himself (so he really existed) detested books – a “fact” that is used to explain his lack of publishing scripts. Mister S. didn’t want to write anything down because in his opinion the mind would get lazy: If you wrote everything down, you wouldn’t have to remember and you wouldn’t listen as carefully. Take that, Generation Smartphone!

How do you do philosophy without reading, then? Find (at least) one partner in crime who is as interested in your question as you are and then simply talk about it. It cannot be this easy, you might think. Well, it is and it isn’t. Of course you are going to talk about your subject in a certain way: The Socratic Way. What does this mean? Basically it means that you are going to be a huge pain to each other because you will ask annoying questions. But let us start at the beginning.

The Socratic Method consists of two parts, both of which include the asking questions bit. The first part is giving a definition of your subject. This doesn’t mean giving a definition in the modern sense, to simply avoid misunderstandings while talking about something. It means grasping the true, objective essence of something. For example one really famous subject Mr. S has been talking about to his students was bravery. The at first glance harmless little question would have been “What is bravery?”. The students then would explain what bravery was in their opinion. Then the second part follows, where Mr. S would ask questions which showed the students that the answer wasn’t as easy as they thought it was. For example, one of the students would define the subject by saying: “Bravery is to happily give your life in a battle that serves your country.” Then Mr. S would maybe ask: “But couldn’t that also be called stupidity? And furthermore, when everybody expects you to serve your country in this way and you would be punished if you didn’t; but you don’t really believe in fighting being the answer, wouldn’t it be braver to stick to your belief and get punished than to give into some rule you don’t really believe in?” So the students would notice that it wasn’t as easy as they first thought.

And that is exactly what you may do, if you want to try out philosophy without doing huge amounts of reading.

Socratic Questioning/Way/Method – basically it is just about asking good questions until you run out of inacceptable answers…

Have fun, and don’t forget: Stay human while you are being a philosopher!