I’m currently involved in a course on philosophy and in the textbook, I’ve recently read on Socrates. Readers should know that Socrates is one of my favorite characters in history. I do have a Socratic dialogue I wrote on here where Socrates encounters an evolutionist. The life of Socrates is a fascinating subject and if you read the Platonic dialogues, he is an amazing figure to watch.
One characteristic listed of Socrates was that he really wanted to know what things are. This is something quite important for us to do in most any endeavor. When I meet with someone and I disagree, one of the first things I try to do is to get us to define our terms. If you meet with a Jehovah’s Witness for instance, get them to define terms like “Trinity”, or what it means when Jesus is the “Son of God.”
This doesn’t mean you let them define the terms per se though. It means you let them tell you what they think they mean. Then you can be sure you are talking about the Trinity that you believe. If they speak of a Trinity of three gods, then you can be sure they are not talking about the Trinity of Christianity. If you talk about a Son of God that is begotten in time, then you can be sure they are not talking about the Son of God in classical theism.
Socrates did the same kind of thing. In the Lysis, he wants to know what friendship is, in the Meno, virtue, in Theaetetus, Knowledge, in the Republic, Justice, etc. You can enter a dialogue like the Lysis and think “Why yes. I know what friendship is.” In the end, you’ll be wondering if you really do know. The last time I read it, I was left stunned again and wondering what kind of friend I was as the Lysis makes you bring everything into question.
An importance of this in our day and age though is if we know what things are any more. Now someone can tell me what this laptop I’m writing this blog on at the time is, but can they tell me what the wisdom I’m using to write it is. (Well, let’s hope I’m using wisdom.) They can describe the chemical reactions that go on in my brain and throughout my body when I see a beautiful lady, but can they tell me what desire and love are really? Are they simply chemical reactions?
What about goodness? Does goodness exist in reality, or is it something that we merely impress upon reality. When I see someone giving money to charity, are they really doing a good thing, or am I taking my idea of goodness and throwing it onto that event? If that is the case, is there really such a thing as goodness or is it just my subjective idea?
This will get us into the idea of Protagoras. He is famous for saying that man is the measure of all things. If a man were to think something is true, then that something is true. There is a way in which we can agree but a very limited way. If a wind blows and you experience it as hot and I as cold, it would be quite foolish of me to argue that you are not experiencing it as hot. Now I can argue that there’s something wrong with your physiology if you think that wind is hot or with your mind, but I cannot argue that you did not experience it that way.
The wind does have an objective nature though. It is not two contradictory things. What about goodness though? Does goodness have an objective nature? Does truth? Does knowledge? Does love? Do we really know what these things are anymore, or is it that because these things cannot be described empirically, then we cannot say? Is it because they do not have physical properties that they do not really exist? Is all that is real merely the world I experience through my senses?
And for those of us who disagree, do we really pay attention to what these things are? Do we sit down and say “Anybody have any ideas on what holiness is?” If anyone wonders, it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything like that also. We just don’t sit down and discuss great ideas any more. Let us suppose we sat down to discuss holiness. Even if we reached no definite conclusion, would we say that it was an entire waste? Doubtful.
Our generation is one to be concerned. We no longer know what things are. We have reduced everything to physical properties. What about ourselves? Have we made ourselves merely physical properties? Do we know who or what we are any more?