What is your idea? What do you think Socrates is doing?
Socrates has a pernicious philosophical position. It's based, in part, on a claim about how we should understand knowledge and values. He wants us to believe knowledge and values are a matter of logical argument.
I want to oppose this idea. People should reject this claim and the philosophical position that Socrates built with it.
We should reject it because his account of reason and argument is a lie. I'm not recommending we reject logic because I have something against reason or argument. I want to defend these things. I do not believe the French or American revolutions to be misguided, for example, because they overestimated the ability of reason to judge Kings. Nor do I believe you have to engage in irrational "conspiracy theories" to doubt the official stories about President Kennedy or the murders of 9-11.
Rather, I find logical argument itself to be a mockery of reason and argument. Socrates was in a position to understand his creation would mislead his audience.
I want to replace any account of knowledge or morality that involves either logic or rhetoric, considered separately, with its alternative, that we consider both logical and rhetorical argument together.
I have an analogy which I think suggests my critique of the problem. We can understand the game "king of the hill." The game involves getting to the top of a hill, not only first, but staying there for some period. We would be unhappy if someone told us that this game was just about getting to the top, without mentioning the business of keeping others off, or characterized it as pushing people away, without mentioning it was about pushing them away from the top so the winner would be king. We would be unhappy because they would not be telling us really what the game was about. If we proceeded to play according to this advice, we'd never get a chance to be "king of the hill." In the same way, if knowledge and values are a matter of argument, but we relied on the Socratic mischaracterization that argument was just about logic, we'd never get to knowledge or values.
To see this, I want to contrast two definitions of argument provided by Prof. Don Levi in his Critical Thinking and Logic. They reflect a contrast between a non-logician's and a logician's view of argument.
Prof. Levi points out a distinction between a crafted argument and argument as a verbal fight or conflict. He tells us there are good reasons for people to avoid fighting with words,
"...In criticizing their verbal fight, we are thinking of how they can communicate better. "Learn to argue," we want to tell them, "by not fighting over the past, by avoiding spitefulness, by being more open and forthright, by being specific about your gripes."
Arguing does not have to be destructive. And avoiding it may be even more destructive if the issues dividing the people involved are not confronted." (Don Levi, Critical Thinking and Logic, page 26)
The difference between a crafted argument and fighting with words has to do with the craft involving certain agreed upon practices. He mentions here, "fighting over the past," "...spitefulness," "being more open and forthright," and "being specific about your gripes." These issues separate fighting with words as weapons and crafted arguments. Levi tries to contrast verbal bickering with his own sense of argument by providing a clear statement of what a crafted argument entails. He tells us,
An argument is given when an arguer takes a position or stand on an issue and offers support or backing for it. (page 27)
I take this to be a fair account of the kind of argument that philosophers would want to be engaged in. It is the kind of argument wherein you might talk about a sense of fair play. You can see this in contrast with verbal fighting where winning an argument is more like what happens when one fights with real weapons. People get hurt, they can't respond, they give up not because they don't have anything to say, but perhaps because they are too beat up to continue talking.
One of the great differences between Socrates and myself is that both our accounts of argument , and what we take to be the point of arguments, differ. The account Levi gives of argument as understood in logic is the following,
An argument is a statement that is given support, support that takes the form of a statement or statements. (page 212)
The difference between the first account and the second involves, in part, there being nowhere in logic any mention of the controversies that its arguments are about, or the fact that arguers give these arguments for the benefit of other arguers. These issues are of interest to rhetoricians who discuss the psychology of argumentation.
There is a general point to arguments, on my view, and that point is to obtain by arguing knowledge and values. Socrates does not allow that arguments can amount to knowledge or values. Despite the fact that he may endorse the claim that knowledge is about "true, justified belief," and logical arguments are supposed to show how this is possible, he comes down saying people really don't know anything. We are told, remember, that Socrates is the wisest because he is the only person to know that he doesn't know anything. Everyone else merely doesn't know anything, without knowing it.
Partly because Socrates's logical arguments are attenuated, and not whole arguments, they cannot serve us in the same way as arguments understood in Levi's first sense. In Socrates's account of knowledge and values, the point of characterizing argument as being limited to logic is to make sure that knowledge and values are impossible.
Socrates cannot come out and say this. He cannot say that he wants people to adopt a view that makes knowledge and values, a large part of people's lives, impossible. He would lose his audience if he did.
The point of Socrates's account is to preclude argumentation as an alternative to fighting. He does this because he speaks for the powerful who suppose the use of force will make their survival happen. The powerful suppose that swords are more powerful than words. The point of Socrates making his argument, when the powerful could presumably just take what they wanted, is to seduce the weak into giving up what can sometimes effectively defeat the powerful.
The fact that Socrates makes no claim to work for the interests of the powerful, that the destruction of words is in their interest, or that his ideals aren't the same as many of his fellow Athenians, does not diminish the effectiveness of his argument. There is no reason to think that the principle of charity, which pleads with us to see the best in an argument, should make us think such a plot was unworthy of him.
The Iliad is a model for the Socratic project. The strong found it more difficult than expected to take what they wanted from the Trojans. In the end, however, the strong won by seducing the Trojans into giving up their only advantages. In philosophy, Socrates and his claim about knowledge and values are a Trojan horse. The best made argument, according to the Iliad, is the one that gets the job done.
Can you say what you have against logic?
Logic is portrayed as being about reason, and reason being about what makes correct arguments. A correct argument, according to deductive Logic, is an argument where when the premises are true, the conclusion cannot be false. Any argument where this is true is considered a correct argument. So, for example, we are to suppose that the following is an example of a correct deductive argument,
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
The correctness of this argument, on the view of logic, has nothing to do with what we might say about men, mortality, or Socrates. The correctness is purely a matter of the form of the argument. As Levi argues,
Logical appraisal is concerned with the relation of premises to conclusion, with the logical correctness of the argument. (page 234) ...
The question of the logic of an argument is to be distinguished from the question of truth. The question of truth is about the premises or conclusion of an argument; the question of logic is about the relationship between premises and conclusion, whether the conclusion follows from the premises. (page 241) ...
The logical correctness of an argument is not a function of the subject matter from which the argument is taken: logical correctness is field-invariant. (page 249) ...
An argument form is valid just in case it is not possible for any instance of it to have true premises and a false conclusion. (page 260) ...
An argument is valid if it has a valid argument form. (page 260)
The form of an argument can be depicted in terms of variables like p or q. On this view, these variables, or terms, represent any word that would be considered the content of that argument. An example of the general form for a logical argument is,
If p, then q. p, therefore q.
The study of logical argument is the study of all the variations of arguments that could be generalized in this way. The hope for logic is that one could show the conclusions of arguments to be true, without having to do any investigations involving the contents of those conclusions, by only having only to know the stated premises were true and the form of the relevant argument was correct.
One could appreciate how logic would appeal to philosophers. The form of logical arguments makes it seem to have the potential of mathematics. The arguments lend themselves to be connected to various other issues in philosophy, including "truth," "justification," and "belief." However, all of us should doubt whether logical arguments so understood can be applied to the real world.
Socrates leads us to think that logic is about reason. The work of the philosopher, for Socrates and his converts, is said to be to develop the theory of logic to get to knowledge and values. One might think that the Socratic or anyone's account of reason had to allow that it was applicable, that is, that we should be able to see logical arguments working in our lives. For this reason, we should think to reject Socrates's account of reason if we could never apply logical arguments where we would expect to employ reason.
Imagine we did try to apply logical arguments. Let's consider just the simple most general cases of the form "If p, then q. P, therefore q." To do this, I think we should try to use our arguments to take stands on important controversies. As Levi's first definition of an argument suggests, arguments are stands taken on controversial issues. However, in such cases, as our understanding of argument leads us to think, there may be any number of other arguments of the same general form that take stands on the same controversy.
If just one of these contending arguments turned out to have true premises and a false conclusion, and in any circumstance, one would imagine that to be the case, then the general form "If p, then q. p, therefore q," would be shown invalid by having found such an argument as a counterexample. That is, the claim that logical arguments in general can be correct - because of their form - would be shown false. This argument shows there are counterexamples to the general form of logical arguments. These counterexamples are rendered impotent only by insisting that logical arguments cannot be considered to be about controversies. They cannot be allowed to be compared to other logical arguments for this very reason.
I want to imagine an example, wherein I try to apply a logical argument to a controversy, and show the disaster that happens for logicians if we allow the argument to meet its challengers.
Take the following controversy: Some people would insist that Plato was a student of Socrates. They think Plato wrote about his teacher, who had certain discussions, was put on trial, and died by drinking hemlock. So, a true claim about Socrates, might be that he was mortal. He's that kind of guy. This truth might be put using the following argument,
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
However, this argument does not just state a truth, it takes a stand in a controversy. It makes a claim and backs it up with certain evidence. Someone else, who has information pertaining to this issue, disagrees. He thinks that this argument is all wrong. In fact, he argues, Socrates is immortal. This argument would be put in the following way,
All characters are immortal.
Socrates is a character.
Therefore, Socrates is immortal.
The argument involves a number of issues. For example, are these two arguments debating about the same things. Someone might say that Socrates is both a man and a character, and so the arguments are about two different subjects. There can not be, therefore, any contradiction. To this question, one has to admit that the arguments themselves do not settle such a question. The similar words, the use of Socrates in both, raises the question whether the arguments have the same subject. But, the arguments as stated, do not settle this question.
There is another question involving whether mortal and immortal are about the same issue. Someone might claim, here too, that one might be both mortal because one was a man, and immortal because as one was also a character one was immortal. Babe Ruth might be such a man/character. However, the arguments themselves, though they raise this question, do not answer it.
An interesting issue, I believe, is how the sense of these arguments are going to be determined. There are stark choices. The choice is between the controversy, wherein the question might be raised, "Was Socrates a real person, someone who lived and died, or was he a character inspired perhaps by a real person, but really just a character like Sherlock Holmes, who is now as immortal as Zeus?" The alternative has to do with the fact that the terms of logical arguments have no meaning like the words of our language. The terms of logical arguments are determined by people. So, we might ask, "Given there is no 'real' meaning of the name Socrates, how can we say the Socrates mentioned in the argument about men is the same Socrates as in the argument mentioning characters?"
This issue about 'word' and 'term' meaning rests on several considerations, including the issue of whether the terms of logical arguments are words, or are they just things like place-holders, where they are empty spaces having no meaning unless we place something there. Another issue, one that I would raise, is whether the way we determine the meaning of a word we don't know is anything like the way we might determine the meaning of the terms for a logical argument that we don't know. I suspect there are big differences.
Anyway, I think it is here obvious, that the idea that arguments can be correct in virtue of their form alone is questionable. In this case, where we are considering Socrates, we cannot tell whether he is mortal or immortal from the form of these arguments alone. In fact, if we did rely just on their form, we would have to say that any way you choose to put it, these arguments stand invalidated by the existence of a counterexample. That is, the form of these syllogisms are shown to be invalid. If we grant the truth of the premises then we will have to grant that one of the conclusions is false, and hence, the form of this argument is shown to allow for a false conclusion when the premises are true.
I think the upshot of this argument is to see that if logicians want to maintain the fiction that arguments of the form "if p, then q. p, therefore q," are correct in virtue of their form, they have to deny that such arguments can be about controversies or could ever be compared to other arguments in such situations. Hence, the correctness of logical arguments depends on the distinction between logical and rhetorical arguments.
It may be well and good, therefore, that logicians have developed their theory of validity. It may lead to discoveries in computer programming, for example. However, it would be a mistake to suppose that logical argument could represent reason. Reason involves, for instance, the willingness to consider new information, or sage advice about controversies we all face. The theory of logical argument, where logical correctness is a matter of form, must insist we ignore alternative arguments, new information, or the thoughts of sages. Logic can not maintain its reputation for being "objective" and "scientific" if it allowed itself to be applied to any of the controversies that crafted arguments, by Levi's first definition, are supposed to address.
Though we might think that knowledge and values were a matter of reason or argument, we should not think logic was how we should understand these things.
The problem with Socrates's claim about knowledge and values is that he asks us to choose between rhetoric and logic. For example, he thinks the choice is between Thrasymachus's view based on rhetoric, and his own based on logic. As he rejects the one, he figures one must accept the other.
However, the account of knowledge and values as a matter of logical argument, the one I'm pinning on Socrates, relies on a false dichotomy. There are actually different choices than the two that Socrates allows his audience. He first offers us no real choice between logic and rhetoric because neither position can be held independently of the other. That is, you can't insist logical arguments can be correct without distinguishing between logic and rhetoric.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to Socrates's view. One should adopt this alternative another view, the position that knowledge and values are a matter of both logical and rhetorical argument considered together. This view says knowledge and values are a matter of contending points of view.
I've thought Socrates was a hero. Why would he have us commit to an argument that makes knowledge and values impossible when your argument suggests they are possible?
The point of arguing, and not just fighting, is to arrive at knowledge and values. We would like to base our decisions upon these "firm foundations." They would be "firm" because people who have a stake in solutions to those controversies, who participated in the argument that developed those "foundations," would want to support the solution they had an investment in. A successful argument, on this view, does not marginalize its participants, neither its "winners" or "losers."
The point of getting people to adopt a position that makes knowledge and values impossible is to undermine any attempt at resolving conflicts through argument. The problem with conflict resolution is that some participants might be afraid that equitable resolutions wouldn't guarantee their personal survival. You might be afraid that having an equal chance to survive on the Titanic, for example, wasn't enough for you. The powerful, who can purchase or force others to do their work, on this view, believe that the point of their accrual of power is to give them a better chance than the weak to survive. From their point of view, the whole effort to resolve conflict through argument works against their interests. They come to feel that if they follow the rules, they would be prevented from getting their"cut".
And so, Socrates argues a position that makes knowledge and values impossible, argument futile, words meaningless, the terms of logical arguments manipulable by the powerful, and life on such terms not worth living. The powerful believe they can live with these consequences.
I'm making this argument about the lies of Socrates, but I'm also saying the Teacher of Righteousness made this same argument. In his circumstances, it was important to point out that there were two kinds of folks in the world. Say they are the "descendants of light" and the "descendants of darkness." The virtue of light here is that as a metaphor for having knowledge and values, he's saying with knowledge and values one is able to make well made decisions that will assure survival for people. The vice of darkness, or being unable to rely on knowledge and values, one is then like the blind and deaf who walk but in darkness are a danger to themselves and others.
The problem with Socrates's view is that it gives the powerful the false sense that they will be able to survive on their own, though blind - without knowledge and values, and deaf to new information and sage advice.
I hear you are not impressed with the philosophers who follow Socrates. Who are these philosophers and what's wrong with what they say?
You have heard of my analogy about Socrates and the Teacher. I've said that Socrates tries to get us to make a very bad exchange. I've likened it to getting Jack to exchange his family cow for a handful of magic beans. You remember the story of Jack. He was supposed to take the family cow to town to sell it for enough goods, and such, to allow his farm family to survive the oncoming winter. Instead, he is bamboozled into exchanging his cow for what he's told are magic beans.
The problem with Jack is that he gave up on the agreement he made with his mother and went with the slick salesman who promised him a goose that laid golden eggs, and so on. The problem for Jack's family is that he gave away what they were going to use to survive, and as you can't live on a handful of beans for very long, they stand to suffer starvation when winter come.
Now, the philosophers that come after Socrates all applaud Jack making that trade. They all think we should commit ourselves to the idea knowledge and values are a matter of logic. They each try to react to some complaint that, Socrates 's account can't possibly be correct because it implies knowledge and values are impossible when we have lives involving knowledge and values. They each, in turn, try to make excuses for Socrates's argument and, too, for what Jack did with the cow.
Well, no amount of hoping, wishing, and praying is going to save Jack's family after he gave away the cow. The only thing that was going to save them was for Jack to keep his promise to his mom. In other words, if I put this in terms of selfishness, no amount of argument and excuse making is going to save a person from their own selfishness. The only salvation is to not be selfish in the first place. So, all I'm saying is, don't commit yourself to the Socratic account of knowledge and values in the first place, as that is just to give away the cow for beans.
Secondly, philosophers who followed Socrates worked to make his account of knowledge and values more acceptable to their audience in the face of all the suffering that his account entails.
So, where Socrates asked people to believe that knowledge and values were a matter of logical argument, that is, just whatever the powerful told them, Plato's allegory of the cave suggests that any argument to the contrary, would be a matter of evidence, and that such evidence could not be credible unless it came from some source we cannot experience in this life. The allegory suggests that anyone who doesn't support the view of things provided by the powerful is one of the terrorists. The allegory is backed up by the myth of Gyges, which suggests in this regard, that the powerful are good for the country because they protect the population that goes along with their leader's viewpoint because they will protect the weak from outside terror.
Where Socrates insisted that logic was reasoning, and progress came through reasoning, philosophers like Aristotle pushed the idea that knowledge and values could not be a matter of anything outside of our experience. His view would characterize criticism of the viewpoint of the powerful as coming from those who rejected reason, that is, by people who promote irrationality. For these philosophers, it was important to defend the powerful by arguing that their critics must be crazy.
As both positions are based on the acceptance of the original Socratic view that knowledge and values are based on logical argument, there really isn't that much that differentiates Plato from Aristotle, or from the more modern perspective, empiricists from rationalists, and those from Kantians who would like to combine these perspectives. All instruct the powerful how to undermine the credibility of their critics.
Given Socrates and his followers have done as you claim, what would you do differently?
I would insist that Jack not trade the cow for beans. He made a deal with his mom and he does not come up with any rationale that makes any sense to give that deal up. The magic beans are just beans, after all.
There is a difference between making an argument that addresses a controversy, that looks to speak to the concerns of others, that allows for accepting new information or sage advice, and what Socrates would have us do. There is a difference between putting together an argument that understands a problem, that takes into consideration the views of critics, and looking at just the part of an argument that considers one point of view. When we only consider that part of an argument, in order to consider logical correctness, we have to ignore how that part of arguments are applicable to our lives, how they relate to other arguments, or essentially, develop knowledge and values for us.
The difference has to do with what one figures is the point of calling half an argument a whole. The purpose of developing an arguments is to ultimately resolve conflicts. The meaning of getting people to accept Socrates's lie, on the other hand, is to allow the wicked to take advantage of people.
You can find people who believe that violence is the only effective way of bringing about change. They think protesting in the streets, carrying signs, and talking up court cases cannot work. They think, if you're oppressed and weak, the most effective representatives for you are guys in ski masks with guns.
People rely on violence, stealth, and deceit, because they believe these strategies work. They think their survival requires them to resort to force. They think force works because they have at the same time made it impossible to resolve conflicts with argument. I think their presumption about force is based upon a commitment to the Socratic account of knowledge and values. I'm saying, this is the view of the anti-Christ. It is what makes one a descendant of darkness. It's why these people, with these commitments, are a danger to themselves and others. It is the fact that they are so dangerous that people must reject the Socratic account of knowledge and values.