The Fundamentals of Education

A Socratic Perspective on
the Cultivation of Humanity

by Max Maxwell and Melete

Page 25

The Teachings of the Anti-Socratic

5.) Democracy can validate ideas (the majority makes right).
There is a very popular habit of referring to polls in order to justify a position. This is done as if the opinions of many people automatically confer truth to an idea. Socrates had a very different take on the value of the democratic confirmation of truth.

In the context of Polus appealing to the fact that the vast majority of people agree with his side of the argument, Socrates responds:

SOCRATES: "...I do know how to produce one witness to whatever I'm saying and that is the man I am having a discussion with. The majority I disregard. And I do know how to call for a vote from one man, but I don't even discuss things with the majority. (Gor. 474a-b)

Appeals to the opinion of the majority are automatically rejected in Socratic discourse. With regard to a refutation gained by the vote of many, Socrates says:

SOCRATES: "This 'refutation' is worthless, as far as truth is concerned" (Gor. 471e)

The anti-Socratic style of talk so prevalent in our public conversations on important issues wants only to persuade. Truth is not the top prize. Successful persuasion is the top prize. The typical talking head of today would much rather have a poll that proved 99% of the population believed in the false position she was advocating, than to merely have the truth on her side. The Socratic method of conversation is very focused on working out issues face to face. The Socratic method has no concern for the opinions of the majority. The Socratic philosophy of conversation focuses on the work that needs to be done between people who are actually involved in the conversation. With regard to improving our understanding, the truth that is sought between two people in living dialogue is more important than an external survey of the majority.