Do you know the mental torture known as “the Socratic method”? It is the watered down version of the origin of all mental torture: the method of Socrates. Despite the likeness of naming, their commonality is limited to one party in conversation passive-aggressively expressing his superiority over the other. In the latter this is done by a person in power asking questions for which no definite answer exists and in the former the questioner’s power derives from asking a question to which he already knows the answer. The result is the same: answering is like a mouse trying to escape from a cat.
Leszek Kolakowski said: “There is one man with whom all European philosophers identify themselves, even if they dismiss his ideas altogether. This is Socrates – a philosopher who is unable to identify himself with this archetypal figure does not belong to this civilization.” in Metaphysical Horror, p. 1, Basil Blackwell.
I don’t know whether this means I am not civilized, not European, not a philosopher or a combination thereof. Maybe Socrates would have thought it a question worth exploring – so let me explore.
The question then is this: insofar European philosophy has been brought to life because of the labour of the midwife Socrates, what would it mean if it were stillborn?
What better way to discuss this question then via the dialectical method? It certainly will feel to many as if their minds are stung by a hornet. As thinking is an activity of the mind the adrenaline of the question should make for an engaging debate. From my side I won’t claim any power in the matter. Regardless of being either not civilized, not European or not a philosopher (maybe none of the above), therefore having no power to start with – I will gladly propose my answer to start the discussion.
To complete the trilogy of Socratic self-admitted likenesses explored by Arendt, I believe paralysis by a stingray is not made any better by the stingray being paralyzed itself. What happens is that after paralysis a basic distrust is installed between the other and you. It is a distrust which you bring home after the debate – and so installs itself in your internal dialogue. We may proclaim enthusiastically then that ‘The Self is Born’ but that little Self so born is born, in my humble opinion, as a little bastard. It is a child of distrust that can’t but project its distrust of itself onto the other, forgetting the other was there before itself.
Maybe nobody struggled as hard as Kierkegaard did with this little bastard of him-self. In the parable of the good Samaritan only the distrustful person needs to self-reflect on the right thing to do. Nietzsche saw as much and decided it was necessary first and foremost to trust his self. Nevertheless, he still did not see the basic error of the Socratic prejudice: trusting yourself is the result of first trusting others, instead of the other – Socratic – way around.
What do you think?