The Fundamentals of Education

A Socratic Perspective on
the Cultivation of Humanity

by Max Maxwell and Melete

Page 22

The Teachings of the Anti-Socratic

2.) Rudeness has a place in intelligent conversation.
Expressing rudeness, hostility, or any conflicted ad hominem focus is the fastest method to destroy the intelligence and value of a conversation. The lobotomy of the rude can take the blade of discourtesy to cut the frontal lobes right out of any decent society. This is especially devastating when unhelpful rudeness destroys conversations about important differences of perspectives and ideas. The message of part one of this essay leads us to a primary Socratic value in discourse. We must open ourselves to other people and other ideas with courtesy and hospitality worthy of an honored guest. This is not just a nice sounding platitude. It is absolutely the only way to actually have an intelligent conversation. Courtesy maintains a useful focus on the subject at hand by removing our personal disputations from the realm of discourse. Respect and hospitality to those who think differently is not just a demeanor of etiquette. It creates the fertile space necessary within human dialogue to work together in productive ways.

Epictetus (AD 55–135) summarized Socrates demeanor in conversation when he wrote, "It was the first and most striking characteristic of Socrates never to become heated in discourse, never to utter an injurious or insulting word -- on the contrary, he persistently bore insult from others and thus put an end to the fray." (Golden Sayings - LXIII)

The practice of the Socratic method of conversation is a practice of creating peace. Although Socrates, as presented to us by Plato, is a good example of the principle of "turn the other cheek." The value of this is not because it is morally "nice". Such enduring courtesy is not a moral platitude. It is a masterful focus on what is useful. It is an expression of personal temperance conducted in dialogue to maintain the fertility of human exploration. The peace that is created through a welcoming hospitality and respectful courtesy towards conversation partners opens up the potential for different people to become a real presence to one another. This optimizes our ability to make our differences join together to create something new rather than becoming personally quarrelsome over our differences.

The Socratic openness that Melete and I enjoy in our conversations always increases our capacity to create new ideas and new ways of seeing things. The unique contributions we bring to our conversations are thus able to combine together in creative ways that would be impossible without the hospitality we offer to one another. Rudeness is the death of intelligence and the murder of creativity. Rudeness forsakes our sacred duty to preserve the peace and thereby nurture our creative freedom. Rudeness is the tyranny of incompetence working to enslave the fearful and can never have a place in any useful conversation.

In Chapter one of Plato's Republic (Republic 336 b-e), Socrates and Polemarchus are trying to define justice. Thrasymachus becomes angry, jumps up, and pounces upon Socrates with a fury saying:

THRASYMACHUS: "What nonsense have you two been talking, Socrates? Why do you act like idiots by giving way to one another?...".

After Thrasymachus finishes scolding, Plato represents Socrates as continuing in the following manner:

SOCRATES: "...I was able to answer, and, trembling a little, I said: Don't Be too hard on us, Thrasymachus, for if Polemarchus and I made an error in our investigation, you should know that we did so unwillingly. If we were searching for gold, we'd never destroy our chance of finding it. So don't think that in searching for justice, a thing more valuable than even a large quantity of gold, we'd mindlessly give way to one another or be less than completely serious about finding it."

The important thing to notice about this exchange is not that Socrates did not return anger for anger, rudeness for rudeness, and completely kept his cool. The important thing is that in addition to keeping cool he also kept the focus on what the conversation was about, which is the importance of defining justice. Keeping our cool and thereby maintaining openness to others helps us keep our focus on the actual subject of the conversation. It is common today to see one talking head bust out with a rude comment and suddenly the whole conversation collapses into distraction. Socratic courtesy is not just a formality of etiquette, it is a well honed focus of mind upon what is important. Rudeness and personal tussling are a useless distraction from much more important matters. Opening ourselves up to others, who have different views, and embracing them with courtesy and hospitality is not just a general principle that tickles our moral and spiritual fancy. It is the only useful path to creating the productive space we need to forge our differences into new knowledge. In terms of the personal psychological dynamics of human creativity in discourse, courtesy is the air we need to breath and hospitality is the water we need to drink.

The anti-Socratic practice is to express as much rudeness as is useful to maintain your one perspective at all costs. The anti-Socratic refuses to engage in a dialogue that has the possibility of making them become open to another point of view. Rudeness during a conversation is an important tool in the anti-Socratic agenda to never honestly examine your own perspective.