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The Fundamentals of Education:
A Socratic Perspective on the Cultivation of Humanity
In Part I, this essay uses George Steiner's criticism of the academic study of the arts (his book Real Presences) as a starting place for exploration. I construct a critical rereading Steiner's book through four years of my own experiments with participating in artistic study and performance in order to articulate the first principle of all possible Socratic perspectives on the education of an individual. In Part II, this first principle is then extended to the public discussion of ideas. In Part III, the ability to bring the first principle of all possible Socratic philosophies of education to full power in the life of a human being is examined through an exploration of the relationships between repetition, variation, increasing complexity, and meaning, which is conducted in relation to the art theme from Part I. In Part IV the framework expressed in Part III is used to blend key aspects of the philosophies of Socrates, Immanuel Kant, Nietzsche, and Buckminster Fuller into a simple framework for doing ethics based on physics. The result, which is articulated in Part V, is a universal human philosophy that is culture and world view independent. This universal philosophy is described in terms of the principles that underlay Socrates' ideal of living an examined life, which are the plain fruit of this unusual exploration. The principles needed for actually living an examined life are the fundamentals of education. Part V's description of the examined life also serves as a criticism of Plato's presentation of Socrates and a reevaluation of what is most important in the dialogues of Plato. This essay's take on living an examined life will be shown to be a universal human philosophy that is not only compatible with all possible world views concerned with the meaning of being human and the task of living well, but is a fundamentally necessary foundation for all such world views. In a world populated with conflicting world views, this universal philosophy is the common ground upon which all humanity walks regardless of their religion, politics, cuture or other personal idiosyncrasies. It is the common ground we need to share explicitly in order to work together in peace to build a future worth living.
PARTS I THROUGH V - PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS:
PART I: THE ART OF LIVING:
Hospitality to the Stranger Within
2. What is Fundamental to Education?
3. Self-Knowledge, Secondary Talk and The Examined Life
3.5 Introduction to an Artistic Commentary
on George Steiner's Real Presences
4. Academic Talk about the Arts
5. Artistic Talk about the Arts
6. The Labor Cost of Academic and Artistic Talk
7. An Artistic Commentary on
George Steiner's Real Presences
8. A Socratic Summa Summarum of the Secondary City
9. The Buddhist Hands Interpretation
of the Adagio Cantabile
10. Peak Performance as a Function of Envisioning
11. Toward a Socratic Persistence of Vision
12. The Relevance of Character for the Design of Education Systems
13. Artistic Performance Within the Gates of the Secondary City
14. A Stranger in a Strange Land
15. The Return from Exile
16. The Immanence of the Other
17. Hospitality to the Stranger
Hospitality to the Stranger in Dialogue
The Teachings of the Anti-Socratic
21. Anyone with a Different Point of View is an Enemy
that must be defeated.
22. Rudeness has a place in intelligent conversation.
23. Winning is more important than truth.
24. Important topics can be justly handled
in the time between commercial breaks.
25. Democracy can validate ideas
(the majority makes right).
26. You ARE your Perspective.
27. The Art of the Anti-Socratic Talking Head
28. The Talking Head and The Problem of Endless Talk
29. Persuasion in the Socratic Method of Conversation
30. Socratic Persuasion Summary
31. The Socratic Method of Conversation as the Practice of Peace
32. The Anti-Socratic War on Peacemaking
PART III: The Fundamentals of the Human Condition
33. What does it Mean to be Human?
34. The Constant Human Response to Variation
35. Repetition, Variation, Complexity and Meaning
36. Exploring the Structure of the Artistic
39. Aesthetic Incommensurability in Natural Language
40. Incommensurability in Formal Systems and Natural Language
41. The Human Condition and the Art of Socratic Questioning
42. Redefining Socratic Questions
43. The Freedoms of Art
The Last half of Part III through Parts IV-V, and Part VI will be finished soon.
Below are notes on those parts, and links to relevant texts of Parts VII and VIII.
Part IV: Groundwork of The Physics of Metaethics:
Socrates, Kant, Nietzche, and Buckminster walk into a bar...
Part IV applies the relationships between repetition, variation, increasing complexity and meaning to blend aspects of the philosophies of Socrates, Immanuel Kant, Nietzsche, and Buckminster Fuller to create a framework for doing ethics based on physics. This clarifies principles needed for living an examined life in preparation for Part V.
PART V: A Socratic Perspective on The Examined Life: Toward a Human Concensus on The Art of Living
Part V is the conclusion of the "Philosophical Foundations" portion of the essay. It demonstrates that the principles of parts I through IV constitute a universal human philosophy that is described in terms of very basic and culture and world view independent human truths. Living the examined life expresses all the fundamentals of education and life that are absolutely necessary for successful education and living. The writing style in Part V will shift to a greater simplicity. It can be read independently from parts I through IV. It is the essential practical fruit of the "Philosophical Foundations" portion of this essay. This take on the examined life maintains that its foundation is composed of things people already know, which consciously or unconsciously underlay their world views. Like my artistic criticism of Steiner's book that was based on years of artistic experience, this is my attempt at an artistic criticism of Plato's presentation of Socrates in the dialogues of Plato, which uses Plato's theory of anamnesis (knowledge as recollection) as its focus. It is not in remembering any knowledge (such as the geometry experiment in Meno), but in bringing into remembrance basic self knowledge that does the trick. The language used to describe this attempts to actually get the reader experience new knowing as an act of recollection. The nature of this knowing if very different from Plato's theoretical obsessions. The most succinct summary of the philosophical foundations portion of this essay is: "The principles that underlay the living of an examined life are the fundamentals of education".
PARTS VI through VIII: Research Implications:
PART VI: ENVISIONING THE EXAMINED LIFE
Part VI explores the first direction of research involving the creation of new types of Socratic exercises that do not depend on the dialogues of Plato for their form, yet retain the important character developing Socratic dynamics. The example provided is a method to encourage a Socratic envisioning of personal development. The purpose is to help students develop their own personal vision of living the examined life. The concept of the 'Hero' is used as a focus to help students envision their better self.
PART VII: SOCRATIC TEXTS: Written Tools for encouraging the Examined Life
PART VII looks into the second direction of research by exploring the use of the Socratic method as a written text. An example of how to apply the Socratic method to modern topics in written form is provided. The Moral Bankruptcy of Faith is a Socratic dialogue I wrote that is close to the dialectical style of the early dialogues of Plato. This dialogue can be used in written or oral form. It uses a technique for refuting definitions that relies on clarifying the scope of knowledge pertaining to morality. It also uses the "one example" technique, which allows an idea or definition to stand or fall based on the success or failure of finding one illustrative example of the idea that is able to stand up to further examination. The net result of this dialogue is that the respondent is unable to either define morality or the scope of application of moral knowledge. The implications of this dialogue are discussed regarding the application of the Socratic method in both written and oral form to a broader range of topics.
The most exciting implication of this line of research is the recovery of an ancient aspect of Socratic dialogue. The most famous portrait of Socrates is in the early dialogues of Plato. Here, Socrates and his conversation partners fail to find the answer they seek as each definition is refuted. The repeated cycle of definition and refutation ends with an admission of failure to find the knowledge they seek. We almost never use the Socratic method as portrayed in the early dialogues of Plato because it is too complex to reliably overturn another's deeply held view through simply asking questions. The verbal possibilities are too unwieldy, the tenacity of people in clinging to their views too great. The Moral Bankruptcy of Faith is a demonstration of the ability to use the style of Socratic method similar to the style the early dialogues of Plato, in application to modern topics. This dialogue is the first, or one of very few, dialogues since Plato that actually captures the flavor of functionality of the early dialogues of Plato.
PART VIII: THE SEMANTIC INDEPENDENCE OF SOCRATIC FOCUS
PART VIII demonstrates a third direction of new research. This direction explores the possible use of the Socratic method as a formal system such as propositional logic or formal systems capable of basic arithmetic. The first step in this research is to create methods for generating valid Socratic questions in a way that functions through dependence on rules and exhibits semantic independence from natural language. A proof of concept example is provided that describes a technique for generating valid Socratic questions in response to a definition by attending only to the formalities of the definition's grammar. The introduction of this kind of formality means that we can create effective Socratic questions that can be asked without the questioner knowing the meaning of the respondent's definition. This line of research favors the development of the Socratic method as seen in the stylings of the early dialogues of Plato. The proof of concept example is constructed by using a formal rule that eliminates most of the natural language semantic entanglements of human dialogue. This research demonstrates that the Socratic facilitator may indeed be quite ignorant, yet still able to successfully conduct a Socratic process. It also indicates that it is more possible than previously believed to write computer programs capable of having effective Socratic dialogues with a human being.
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