Socrates (469–399 B.C.): A great classical Greek philosopher whose ideas are still very much relevant today. Although Socrates never wrote anything (that we’ve found), others did. I read the “Last Days of Socrates” by Plato, its a compilation of transcripts from Socrates’ trial. We really learn a lot about his philosophy from the back and forth question and answer style of the court proceeding.
The Socratic method of teaching is an environment that I really excel in. The method of teaching that too many professors abuse is the use of powerpoints and projection screens. Students forced to copy notes projected on the wall takes away a lot of focus on what the professor is actually saying, and all too many of these same professors abuse this technique by not taking breaks for class discussions. Studies have shown that students who learn with this method of teaching don’t retain very much of it without having to reference their notes. Many professors are realizing the importance of class discussions. When tough questions are posed, that is where REAL critical thinking and learning enters the picture. The Socratic method of teaching encourages this question and answer type learning. A teacher poses a tough question in order to get the students to think, eventually through this back and forth discussion new ideas occur and real learning takes place because the student is actively involved.
“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
This caused a problem for Socrates. His students would take the learning method and use it on other people. They began to question authority. This wasn’t necessary in a negative way, but just posing questions to authority figures to learn their opinions. This was seen as very rude and defiant. Socrates was charged with the capital offense of corrupting the youth. Instead of escaping when he had the chance, he wanted to be honorable and went to trial. He was sentenced to death by drinking poison. This is seen (almost immediately after his death) as one of the greatest injustices of the Greek courts in all of its history. Socrates’ legacy continued. Socrates schooled Plato – who schooled Aristotle – who schooled Alexander the Great himself.
“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”
Example of the Socratic Method:
Question posed by a Professor of History (this was a U.S. history class online therefore I have all the transcripts 1/23/09): Do you think that Native American history begins with the arrival of the Europeans? Why or why not? Why I am asking you this question?
My initial response:
Perhaps the European compiled histories of the Indian peoples weren’t established until European arrival to the New World. Obviously, because these people weren’t even known of yet. If “history’ is strictly what is written then the answer would still be “no” for some Indian societies. Some, like the Mayans already had a very sophisticated language and written history of their people. Perhaps some tribes didn’t have a form of written language, but surely their traditions would have been past down orally. To an anthropologist, “history” doesn’t begin with writing, but with culture. Where there is culture, there are archaeological remains. More history has probably been written as a result of archaeology than of just what information early Europeans compiled themselves. I think you are asking this question because many believe American history started with 15th century explorers, but in fact many thousands of years earlier. The history of the peoples of our continent is still being written.
The Professor responded with: “You wrote: “Perhaps the European compiled histories of the Indian peoples weren’t established until European arrival to the New World.” So whose version of history do we live by or who formed our historical memory?
And my second response (yes, I know some of this drags on, but from re-reading it I can see how I was forming opinions):
That question brings up a good point. Most of the information in school text books regarding the native cultures are European compiled. You could argue that even though some cultures, like the Mayans, had a written history, the compiled written history of the multiple native cultures was not created until after European arrival. Thus Native American history didn’t theoretically start until the late 15th century. My argument is that through ethnographic research (and other inquiries into orally transmitted histories that perhaps modern tribal descendants remember) history has been changed. But an even stronger argument is that the archaeological record has finally been examined more objectively (opposed to only early European-American interpretations) and it goes back much further than just the 15th century. Today’s historians are reinterpreting that archaeological record. So theoretically “history” began with the European arrival. However, it is not stagnant, and will never be. The history we know today will change. Let me give an example: there is still an entire chapter of the history books about migrations from Asia to America that is still very spotty. Anthropologists today are still trying to figure out those dates and travel patterns. Alan Brinkley (the guy who wrote our assigned American history textbook, he is not an Anthropologist) reports estimates of initial migrations between 12,000 -14,000 years ago. However, sites thousands of miles south like that in Monte Verde, Chile date to that same time period. There are several sites, all highly debated, such as the Pedra Furada sites in Brazil that have human remains (which date older than many Clovis sites) and other features found with an estimated date of 33,000 years before present! The Clovis-first theory is being squashed. The history books will change. If Native American history started with the arrival of Europeans, they weren’t able to set their interpretations in stone. We count on those people who “form our historical memories” to keep up with modern science and research.
A classmate responded to the professor’s question stating that pre-history is still history, even if not written. I responded to her with this:
This is a very confusing, but thought provoking question. We do have knowledge of Native American history prior to European arrival. However, had Europeans not arrived here and created a compilation of the many native histories that they did, written history for some of those tribes may not have existed. Not all societies had their own written language, it was only after European arrival that the “knowledge of past events” was written and compiled. Of course the natives had their own oral histories. But, does history truly only begin when written down and interpreted? I’ve mentioned in my prior reply to this question that history lies within the archaeological record. But, is is really history until someone uncovers that record and interprets it?
And thus the conversation kept going. This is the perfect example of the Socratic method of teaching because it really shows how learning and new ideas form (almost independently and with almost no help by the professor) by the student. Please reference my 1984 book review. Like I wrote above “we count on those people who “form our historical memories” to keep up with modern science and research”. Think about that. What if these people that we rely on for our knowledge do not keep up with science and research? What if they have their own interpretations of that research, which is fine because there are many things that are open to interpretation, but what if that is the only opinion you ever hear? I think this discussion in my U.S. history class really made me appreciate the control of the masses through the control of history. I emailed my teacher (the same one as above) and brought up this discussion and how I feel 1984 really ties in to it. This was her reply “The connections are you sensing are very real. Regimes (governments, even in the US) have always sought to control history…the story they devise is used to give legitimacy to their authority. History (or what is given as history) changes when governments do…Keep on investigating!!” Needless to say, I’m a big fan of the Socratic method of teaching.
Socrates was not just a brilliant conversationalist and teacher, but also a true philosopher. He was a very spiritual man who believed in reincarnation, the concept of karma, and that a fulfilling life must include the pursuit of knowledge.
This is most of a paper I wrote for a philosophy class September 17, 2007. The paper wasn’t entirely on Socrates, and I some of it I just do not like, so I’m not posting the entire thing. The paper is about Socrates’ opinions of the afterlife and how that relates to the movie Flatliners. It also includes our own personal views of the afterlife. This is not one of my best papers, and the topic of death isn’t one that I spend much time thinking about. What interests me is the idea of the soul and innate human characteristics. I do not believe we are born with a tabula rasa.
Into the presence of the good and wise
Knowing what lies beyond the grave has mystified man for thousands of years. We’ve used both religion and science to speculate. However, no one knows for sure until death is personally experienced. It all boils down to faith, and my faith leads me to believe that there is an afterlife where my soul can rest in peace for eternity in Heaven.
Over 2,500 years ago, Socrates shared his thoughts on immortality of the soul through a process of reincarnation. To this day, when philosophy students compare his ideas to their own they realize that after all this time we are no closer to a definitive-philosophical or scientific- answer. Ideally our afterworld is paradise, a place that our soul can rest free from the tragedy and chains this world provides. Socrates had a theory of judgment, and although he never stated that it would come from a higher power, he believed that the poor soul who abused life in their last body would be punished to wander the earth as some sort of ghost to eventually be reincarnated into the worst of possible situations, or we would be rewarded with another body and chance to enjoy another life in better conditions (p. 150-151).
Socrates believed the soul was absolutely indestructible (p. 184-186) and that since everything that has an opposite is generated from an opposite, it is proposed that life originates from death and vice versa (p. 133-137). The only valid argument Socrates put forth for reincarnation was that of recollection (p. 137-143). However, I don’t think these concepts were passed on from a past life but rather are preprogrammed, God-given traits. Beauty, equality and the concept of good and evil cannot be taught or even explained very easily. Nonetheless, they are very real feelings. You cannot teach someone to have a conscience or to feel regret. The reason why we have these innate ideas is beyond the scope of science and takes us back to the strongest most unexplainable concept, faith. And “faith is much much more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7).
According to “Flatliners” five medical students voluntarily killed themselves with the intent to taste death and sample a possible afterlife and were brought back to life several minutes later. Their unresolved sins came back to haunt them until they were able to correct the wrongs in their life. The plan wasn’t very well thought out from a religious standpoint; what if their mock-suicides angered God and they were not allowed to return to the living? Socrates also believed suicide to be unjust, “illegitimate,” and made God angry, and one would inevitably be punished for it (p. 121-122). It would have made for a good plot twist had one of the characters actually died and experienced real death and not limbo as it seemed they all saw. The afterlife is for the dead, we should not muddle in the affairs of the spiritual world unless we are ready for the consequences.
The most memorable lesson learned in the movie was Rachel’s battle with guilt. Her unwarranted guilt was so severe it became an injustice to her own soul. Through repentance we are forgiven for life’s misdoings; things done to others and to ourselves. Rachel needed to let the guilt and self pity go. God, after all, is the final judge and ultimately decides our fate. Therefore, let’s not fill our minds with things that will only hold us back from progressing in life. I have enough faith in myself to know the path I’ve chosen is a just one and I do not fear the afterlife. In fact, I expect to have a good one. However, we need to concentrate on making good choices for today. Dwelling on death will only hold us back from truly living. We are here on earth for a reason, to live well and to cherish life. Let’s live up to our abilities and hopefully when God judges us we are granted access through the pearly gates of Heaven. Hopefully it will be as magnificent as any dream that we could possibly have. When it comes to life, and in this case death as well, faith is the only unwavering thing we can lean on.
As a Christian, I am content with the belief that an afterlife in Heaven waits for me. If I lead a good life my judgment will have a great outcome and I will be rewarded with eternal blessings. We have but one chance on earth and need to make the best of it. Unlike the movie “Flatliners” we do not have the ability to make amends for un-repented sins after death. I do believe that “nothing can harm a goodman either in life or after death,” (p. 70).
Two wise men, Socrates and Jesus Christ, both taught that worship of earthly possessions hinders soul study and keeps us preoccupied from learning life’s true meaning (p. 125-128). Jesus said that our earthly treasures can be stolen by man but our heavenly treasure can be stolen by no man. Staying focused on being true to ourselves and living a pleasing life is the most important thing we can do with our short time here. If you fear death and question your afterlife, it’s probably a good time to reexamine yourself for improvement. After all is said and done, our “souls will go, in accordance with their conduct during life” (p. 151). It was also Socrates who said the unexamined life is not worth living (p. 66), maybe there is something to that.
(All ideas from Socrates were from The Last Days of Socrates by Plato)
I received this note from my philosophy teacher: “Especially admirable is that you cover the difficult topics with an independent eye. The analogy you find in some of Socrates’ teachings and Jesus’ is undeniable. Some Greek churches put Plato among the saints!”