These essays were written as a result of a journey of research and experimentation in following Socrates' ideal of living an examined life that has been ongoing for almost 40 years. For more than thirty five years, Melete engaged me in philosophy conversations that upheld the best spirit of Socratic discourse. Without her extraordinary participation, these essays would be much more densly abstract with much less human depth.
- INTRODUCTION TO THE SOCRATIC METHOD AND ITS AFFECT ON CRITICAL THINKING
This essay on the home page of the site introduces the Socratic Method. If you are unfamiliar, start here.
Learning to love the experience of questioning gives psychological strength to our will to question. Learning to love the experience of having our own beliefs and ideas questioned and even discarded gives us an inspired vision of our power to work for our own improvement. If we see questioning as a sacred activity that is vital to our own safety (by safeguarding our integrity and growth), we are less afraid to question the world. If we develop a preference for questioning our own preferences we find a true Socratic spirit within ourselves that will empower our critical thinking for life. The successful use of the Socratic method gifts those who experience it with the living heart of critical thinking.
- A SOCRATIC PERSPECTIVE ON THE NATURE OF HUMAN EVIL
A Socratic perspective on the relationship between ignorance, human evil, and the examined life.
from "A Socratic View of Wrongdoing" Socrates believed that nobody willingly chooses to do wrong. He maintained that doing wrong always harmed the wrongdoer and that nobody seeks to bring harm upon themselves. In this view all wrongdoing is the result of ignorance. This means that it is impossible for a human being to willingly do wrong because their instinct for self interest prevents them from doing so. This is an extraordinary statement that strikes disbelief in many people going all the way back to Aristotle. It seems contrary to experience that nobody knowingly does wrong. Perhaps you have personally witnessed examples of people who did wrong and seemed to know full well that their behavior was wrong. We propose that this belief of Socrates is true in a clear and simple way.
from "The Most Important Lesson of The Shoah" We are no less evil than the Nazis in our small wrong doings to the extent that evil is not a measure of the size of the results but a measure of the character of our ignorance. We are no less evil than the Nazis in our small wrong doings in so far as our small misdeeds are the birthplace and sanctuary of all great evil. Great evil has no power unless it finds a home in the smaller faults of ordinary people. Eliminate the smallest wrong doing and great evil never rises up. Be mindful to guard against the slightest discourtesy and the philosophies of hatred are never born. This presupposes that we have some capacity to examine our lives. Leading an examined life is our greatest protection against the possibility of another Shoah. This is because one, who lives an examined life, does not wait for great evil to rise tomorrow. When we lead an examined life, we go to war against all the smaller evils that live in our hearts today. The character of both small and large wrongdoing, as a fruit of ignorance and fear, is identical. We cannot just wait until tomorrow to fight great evil when we find it. We must dedicate ourselves to waging war against our own ignorance and fear today. This is how we win against the rise of great evil. This is the very heart of Socrates' ideal of the examined life.
- HOW TO USE THE SOCRATIC METHOD
This essay serves as a conceptual site map and as an application oriented summary of my research.
Education is much more than force feeding information to students and measuring how well they regurgitate that information back to us on command. Education is more than teaching the art of complying with minimum requirements. Living is more than survival. The Socratic method is a powerful tool to inspire students to take a deep interest in their own enthusiastically willful education and thriving in life. This helps students become more attentive and thoughtful as a matter of their natural character. A high quality and persistence of attentiveness is the most fundamental difference between merely existing and expressing the art of living. Human attentiveness is absolutely essential for human survival, creativity and happiness. The absence of human attentiveness is the absence of human living. The persistence of high quality attentiveness through fair weather and foul is the road we must travel to lead an examined life worth living.
- THE FUNDAMENTALS OF EDUCATION: A SOCRATIC PERSPECTIVE ON THE CULTIVATION OF HUMANITY
The fundamental principles necessary to construct a Socratic focus on education and a discussion of the core structure that makes the full power of the Socratic method come to life are presented in the context of a criticism of the academic study of the arts.
Leading an examined life is the outcome that education must seek to establish in every student. The examined life is necessary for healthful thriving and for maintaining a significant quality and continuity of meaning in our living. This essay will unpack the underlying psychological principles, character traits, and habits of human relatedness that underlie all successful education and make the living of an examined life possible. I will demonstrate the centrality of the Socratic method and philosophy of education to the foundations of all human thriving in our quest for meaning.
- THE SOCRATIC TEMPERAMENT
The necessary character traits of the Socratic teacher are disscussed.
The most fundamental and powerful contribution to education by the Socratic Method is not as a method to communicate specific facts. It is in the demonstration and communication of the Socratic Temperament to the students. To cultivate the Socratic Temperament in the students is to lay the ultimate foundation for the development of superior critical thinking later in life. Deep curiosity, fearless questioning, productive critical thinking and a lifelong quest for self-improvement are the fruits of the Socratic Temperament. The opportunity to develop their own Socratic Temperament is the finest gift you can give to your students. This is done best by teachers who are living the Socratic Temperament in the classroom.
- THE SEMANTIC INDEPENDENCE OF SOCRATIC FOCUS
A proof of concept piece that demonstrates how to address responses to the big questions without having to have a knowledge of the answers or even an understanding of the students responses to the question.
In the late 1980's I was doing research on the Socratic Method and conducted a survey that asked people the question, “What is justice?” A lawyer gave the following definition of justice, “Justice is the restoration of actual human behavior according to the expectations of natural law.” Leave it to a lawyer to come up with that one. This response illustrates why the classic form of the Socratic Method is almost never used. What kind of follow up questions do you use to move the Socratic process forward in response to such a wordy and conceptually dense definition? What does he mean by actual human behavior? What is natural law? What are its expectations? Which historical source will have more weight in our understanding of natural law? Will it be Aristotle through Thomas Aquinas? Perhaps we will lean towards Thomas Hobbes? What of the Islamic understanding of natural law? The lawyer’s definition of justice contains enough debatable complexity to keep the conversation spinning in non-Socratic circles for quite some time. Below is an illustration of how a simple principle constrains our focus and simplifies the process of interpreting and responding to the lawyer’s definition, while moving the Socratic process forward. In the example below, it is not necessary to worry about the many different directions a dialogue may move as a result of such a difficult definition. The Socratic questioner can take control of the conversation by limiting her focus to a simple structure.
- THE BEAUTY OF THE CONSERVATIVE MIND:
CONSERVATISM AND THE EXAMINED LIFE
This defining look at conservatism in the United States asks the question, "What is conservatism?". With the help of Russell Kirk, an essential defining essence of conservatism is clarified. The implications of this defining essence for the demoralized state of conservatism today, what it means to be a principled conservative, and the importance of conservatism's relationship to Socrates' ideal of living the examined life are the focus of this essay.
"The great beauty of the conservative mind is that its thoughtful examination of life through the lens of its heritage makes possible the existence of genuinely conservative choices, which help to preserve the best of our past so that the people of today can have a better tomorrow."
"In the absence of any thoughtfulness of mind, the existence of a conservative mind is impossible. Neither principles nor knowledge have any habitation in a mind that chooses not to reason."
"In the absence of knowing our own heritage, conservatism dies through the inability to conserve anything."
"A deadly force that is destroying American conservatism on a massive scale is the dominance of forgetfulness and ignorance in the minds of self-proclaimed conservatives with regard to the heritage that they want to conserve. When we forget the moral, social, and political legacies of our civilization, our nation, our religions, and the history of thought, which have been vetted over many generations and centuries, the best of established customs and conventions cannot influence our thinking on current issues. Today, it is so common that the cartoonish meme of the current hour has more power of influence over the average conservative than the whole history of the established conventions and customs of an entire civilization. Today, a 10 second sound bite from some TV talking head has more weight in the thinking of many conservatives than the whole history of a nation or a religion. For many conservatives today, the life giving continuity with our heritage, which is the very soul of conservatism itself, is murdered in the sleep of forgetful ignorance."
"Conservatives who respond to political talk with an obsession to attack people instead of reasoning about ideas demonstrate a disturbingly undeveloped understanding of what it means to realistically talk politics as a conservative. Obsessions with personal disputation reveal a lack of understanding of how to apply principled conservative thinking to the most important issues of our time."
"...in the absence of a principled, thoughtful understanding of our own conservatism, we will fall for everything that pretends to be conservative. And so in our time we see the presence of non-conservative charlatans pretending conservatism in front of significant numbers of conservative identified people who are unable to understand or apply their own worldview."
"Principled conservatives do not play word games with "alternative facts" or with the justification of morally dubious positions that fly in the face of established tradition."
"The over hyped paranoia among unprincipled conservatives regarding the loss of a political contest has overcome the just fear of losing touch with the foundations of knowledge and morality that make us conservative in the first place. This happened not because of some demonic, socialist plot from the left. This terrible loss is the result of the ordinary failings of conservative identified people, who forgot that in order to be conservative, something must be conserved. In order for something to be conserved, conservatives must choose what that shall be. In order to choose well what shall be conserved, the human capacity for reasoning must be engaged in way that embraces the richly detailed heritage of our civilization."
"The valuable moral principles, knowledge, and traditions of the past are being drowned in a flag colored bathtub filled with irrelevant marketing hype. Winning, as an end in itself, has become more important than truth. It has even been implied by some self-proclaimed representatives of conservatism that truth does not exist and can be replaced by "alternative facts" at the whim of the party. The rejection of the concept of truth is as anti-conservative as it gets."
- A MEMORIAL DAY ESSAY: THE LIVING MEMORY OF THE FALLEN SOLDIER
To remember our fallen soldiers with more than words, we must honor them with the integrity of our living. Remember them in your commitment to strive mightily to be your best. Remember them in your own labors to make a safe place for your fellow citizens to thrive. Remember them by not allowing the petty bigotries of special interests, partisan politics, philosophical differences, and social separations to destroy the common bond of our citizenship and thereby murder the life of the beauty for which they died. Remember them in teaching your children the value of good citizenship. Remember them by embracing the importance of justice and virtue in all your dealings with your fellow citizens. In these living remembrances, we receive and honor the gift that our fallen soldiers died to offer.
In these living remembrances, we assure that our fallen soldiers have not died in vain.
- WE THE PEOPLE: FAKE POLITICS AND GRASSROOTS POLITICAL REFORM
The most urgently needed political reform in the United States is not about reforming politicians, Washington D.C., lobbyists, or state political bodies. It is about reforming the people.
What the people hold themselves accountable to do, they can hold politicians accountable to do. When we the people have developed the power to reject any party loyalties that go against the dictates of our own reasoning, we become a major political force in the nation. This is not radical. This is not new. It is common sense. Of course, we will do better to reason together on the issues than we do bickering at one another like partisan enemies. Of course, exercising reasoning on issues is superior to babbling in the complete absence of our own thoughtfulness. Of course, when the people raise their own standards they will have new power to hold politicians accountable to higher standards. Learning to engage in real political discourse offers us a new power of political independence and the ability to hold politicians accountable to higher standards.
- A SOCRATIC PERSPECTIVE ON THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
This essay explains the most important thing we can learn from zombies so that we can avoid living out a human apocalypse.
The zombie always seeks a juicy brain. You can reject the zombie personally and no inner zombie sadness will reduce its desire to have your brain. You can curse at the zombie and it will not become discouraged from wanting to eat your brain. You can chop off the zombie's arm with an axe and no fear will stop it from trying to devour your brain. Zombies have a clear, unstoppable priority that is their one simple, master desire. They always want to eat your brain. According to Socrates, this master desire for humans must be the desire to gain knowledge and create understanding. Knowledge is the juicy brain we need to seek with a zombie-like lust. Like the zombie, we must have no fear in our quest for knowledge. Socrates believed that the only evil or harm to fear in life is ignorance and the only good is knowledge. Always seeking to learn, always seeking to increase in understanding, always seeking to gain and create new knowledge, the Socratic zombie lives with the simplicity of a single, pure devotion to gain knowledge that guides the expression of her will throughout her life.
- A SOCRATIC PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER IDENTITY
The foundation of the identity of both genders are disscused.
...the most important and valued attributes of the human heart and mind should never be included in the construction of gender difference. All that is courageous, tender, temperate, virtuous, compassionate, just and wise, all that stands at the heart of our attempts to live well, all that is the very lifeblood of the human spirit's striving for excellence is never masculine or feminine. It is human. When concepts of gender identity incorporate such qualities, or incorporate secondary attributes and functions that are derived from or are dependent upon such qualities, they degenerate into simplistic projections that service society's need for order over the human need for excellence in understanding.
- INTRODUCTION TO COMPLEXITY ETHICS:
An introduction to ethical thinking based on the energy dynamics of increasing complexity.
While tracing the development of our universe in my mind, I realized that a commonly recognized attribute in the development of our known universe, including the development of life on earth, provides a useful foundation for the study of human ethics. I call the ethical perspective I developed from this observation "Complexity Ethics." Ethical perspectives and imperatives are typically formed in the context of determining how we ought to live in consideration of our fellow human beings, in obedience to god, and more recently in consideration of our environment. I propose that a fundamental ethical perspective can be formed prior to thinking about human beings, today's popular Gods, or the current environmental crisis, which is capable of touching upon every aspect of human living.