Goal of the Course: The general goal of this course is to consider what philosophers call the Socratic commitment. Socrates, a Greek philosopher, 470-399 B. C. , was placed on trial in Athens because he questioned the political, moral, and religious practices of Athens. He gave his own defense which his pupil Plato recorded as The Apology (The Defense). When he was convicted for impiety to the gods and for corrupting the youth because he had taught the young adults to question, he was given the opportunity to propose his own penalty. He refused to give up his mission as the one calling Athens to the examined way of life.
He refused to leave Athens, if the condition were to be that he had to give up teaching. He summed up his defense in the following way: If I say that I cannot hold my peace (by giving up my mission) because that would be to disobey the god, you will think that I am not in earnest and will not believe me. And if I tell you that no greater good can happen to a man than to discuss human excellence every day and the other matters about which you have heard me arguing and examining myself and others, and that an unexamined life is not worth living, then you will believe me still less.
But that is so, my friends, though it is not easy to persuade you. (Apology) The general goal of the course is to explore the personal and social meaning of the statement, the unexamined life is not worth living. The live in which I let other people tell me what the questions of life are, the life in which I let other people give me their answers without my thinking through to my own answers, is the unexamined life. Socrates is saying that the life in which I ask my own questions and answer them for myself in a reasonable manner is a more valuable life than the unexamined life.
The examined life is so much better than an unexamined life that Socrates is willing to die for that value. I want to insist so much on your personal involvement in this course that I choose not to define philosophy other than to say that philosophers have all agreed that the unexamined life is not worth living and that we shall explore how these philosophers have examined their lives so that you may be encouraged and assisted by them in examining your own life.
The philosophers do not agree on what questions should be asked in life or in what order the questions should be asked, much less on the answers that they give to their questions. Philosophers do not agree on how to define philosophy. Philosophy is not a science in which we can all use the experimental method of reasoning and conclude to the same theories. Philosophy is not mathematics in which we can all use a mathematical method of reasoning and prove our conclusions. We will make the assumption of-Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living in order to begin the course.
But every assumption which we make should itself be examined in order that we can be honest with ourselves in living an examined way of life. INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY Goal of the Course Hoebel in his 3rd edition of his Anthropologv states that every culture makes: (1) basic factual postulates about the nature of the external world and human existence, and (2) basic normative postulates about what acts or things are good and how the pursuit of these goods or values gives meaning to human existence.
In philosophy, I want us to (1) discover for ourselves our basic postulates about the nature of human existence, about moral values, about religious value; (2) to enter into dialogue with great philosophers about these matters; and (3) to end the course by a restatement or change of our basic postulates, with a responsible answer to the challenges, evidences, questions, and perspectives of the great philosophers. (1) The ability to state one’s basic postulates about human existence, moral values, and religious values may be very difficult For our culture does not present to us only one set of postulates on these matters.
We live aware of many different perspectives; some believe in God, others do not; some affirm that humans possess freedom, others do not; some live by very strict moral codes, others live by impulse. This perplexing mixture of postulates which we encounter can be seen as a good. For philosophy can only begin in human life when we are aware that there is more than one way of looking at things than our own way. One of the reasons that Greece made the transition from mythology to philosophy was that the Greeks were a sea-going people who encountered the myths of many peoples.
This awareness of different stories of the universe and of different value systems was a stimulus which encouraged reflective evaluation of their own values for the Greeks. (2) The very process of entering into dialogue with various philosophers about the nature of human existence, moral values, and religious values will begin to change our values. For the process of doing philosophy, the very process of reflective evaluation on values, for example, introduces a new value into a person’s life.
A person begins to value philosophical reflection and dialogue with others on these basic questions. However, this value is not new, I hopes for you. I assume that you have already said in some way to yourself, “The unexamined life is not worth living. ” I assume that you agree with Socrates that an essential part of being human is the process of raising questions with others about the very nature of human existence and values. I hope that you will see the philosophers we study as companions assisting you in the pursuit of your own questions.
A mistake that can be made is that an individual tends to evaluate these philosophers before they are really understood or without really giving them a chance to respond. I ask that you not evaluate but that you attempt to understand them as you would strive to understand a friend and that you permit them a chance to respond to your evaluations. In a real sense, you should attempt to play both parts of a dialogue, between yourself and the philosopher, creating a continuing conversation on the nature of human existence and values.
For example, if you assume that you have freedom of choice and you tend to evaluate B. F. Skinner negatively because he is a behaviorist, one who believes that all human behavior is governed by conditioning of stimuli and response, first strive to understand Skinner. Then, when you evaluate Skinner, attempt to allow him to respond to your questions and objections. You may find that your objections are not unanswerable and that a reasonable statement of your own position requires more inquiry and investigation.
The awareness that Socrates did not know what he thought he knew was a stimulus which Socrates responded to by committing himself to the examined way of life, and by calling others to that same value. (3) I see the process of doing philosophy, therefore, as leading to the creation of a human community which respects the right of every individual to self-knowledge and which works together in a bond of love enriching each one in self-knowledge and self-direction. The psychologist Carl Rogers affirms that creative human relationships involve people in mutual understanding and acceptance of themselves and each other.
When a therapist understands and accepts a client as the client expresses his experience, this relationship permits the client to understand and accept aspects of his experience which he has repressed. Gaining self-understanding and self-acceptance, the client learns to understand and accept others and to become creative in the pursuit of his goals. I hope that we can establish a relationship in class between teacher and students and between ourselves and the philosophers we study that encourages us to know and accept ourselves and the philosophers we study.
I hope that this relationship will enable us to become creative in our philosophies and of the human community exemplified in the life of Socrates. In the second to last essay of the text, “The Value of Philosophy,” written by Bertrand Russell, I find a quote which states what Carl Rogers has stated about human relationships, but in a philosopher’s way: The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same quality of mind which in action is justice and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to all.
The impartiality and objectivity needed in the pursuit of truth is similar to both the fairness required in just actions and the universality in reasonable love. I believe that the very process of doing philosophy, the very quest of self-understanding of one’s ultimate postulates about human nature and values, in fact leads one to a commitment to a human community of justice and love. If my concept of philosophy is mistaken, the very process of doing philosophy will become a self-correcting discipline through responsible dialogue with other philosophers.
Of course, to affirm as a basic value a human community founded on justice and love is not by itself the totality of truth in philosophy, nor is it a point from which all other philosophical truths can be deduced in some mathematical manner. But such a community is a central value that may be able to be related to their truths and values to be discovered in the pursuit of philosophy. Such new truths and values may then permit me to understand even better the very nature of the Socratic commitment and the human community of justice and love.
Any claim as to finality of insight is unfitting, for I have learned that I can keep on learning. Questions for Reading 1: The Apology (in The Continuinq Quest) 1. What are the old charges against Socrates? The present charges? 2. How did Socrates at first interpret the statement of the oracle? How did he later interpret it? 3. What does Socrates believe about wisdom and God? wisdom and humanity? 4. Socrates makes a comparison between his response to the generals at Potidaea (and two other places) and his response to God. What is that comparison? 5.
How does Socrates view his response to God’s message through the oracle and one of the present charges brought against him? 6. What is Socrates’ wise view of death? 7. What are two moral principles that Socrates does claim to know? 8. Why will Socrates not cease from teaching philosophy? 9. What has Socrates spent his whole life in going about and attempting to persuade his fellow Athenians to accept? 10. Does Socrates view death as an evil or as a good? Why? 11. What does this statement mean for Socrates: no evil can happen to a good human being? 12. What is his request for his sons?
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