Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Wisdom of Socrates

Obama certainly doesn't have it. First of all, respect to Bret Stephens for getting into some philosophy. Much more below the jump.

One of Socrates' most well-known sayings is that "I only know that I know nothing". It's called "Socratic Wisdom" and it's the idea that the truly unwise people are the ones who think they have it all figured out. For Socrates, the foundation for wisdom contains that first seed of humility. It's borne out in the Platonic Dialogues, where Socrates discusses a wide range of topics; wisdom, love, virtue, piety, etc. In each dialogue, he encounters an individual who says that he "knows" what each of these ideas are, but after being questioned by Socrates, it becomes evident that they don't really know as much as they think they do.

On the other hand, Socrates at least possesses the humble thought that he may not know the answer, but at least he thinks he knows how to look for the answer. Maybe you get there and maybe you don't, but you learn something in simply going down the Socratic path. Maybe all you learn is that you aren't as smart as you thought you were, but at least you learned that.

Dovetailing back into politics, one of the reasons I (and I think most people) have a distaste for politicians in general is that politicians have a belief they "know what's best", that they don't make mistakes, and that their theories on whatever are infallible. (This goes for both sides of the aisle.) When was the last time you heard a politician say that he didn't know the answer to something? Why is that? Having people vote for you does not make you an expert on anything.

Humility is a great virtue that our political leaders seem to have lost. Obviously, it takes a great amount of self-confidence to even run for office, but the problem is that the self-confidence becomes arrogance which turns into complacency, and destroys any inclination to question yourself. When you stop questioning yourself and trying to improve yourself, I have no use for you.

This ties into another famous quote from Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living". How many politicians are truly examining and questioning themselves? Not many.

P.S. If you're interested in the Platonic Dialogues, they're very accessible, and not very long. I recommend starting with "Euthyphro".

P.P.S. Gratuitous use of "The Godfather" whenever possible begins here:


  1. Using Socrates in an attempt to support WSJ propaganda? Blasphemous.

    This mess has little to do with Obama.

  2. My only point is that the President (and many other politicians both left and right) are too sure of themselves. Not handing out blame; just looking for a politician with some humility. Let me know if you find one.

  3. Hampton's RedshirtAugust 24, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    ".......For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.

    And from such people turn away!"

    2 Tim. 3:1-5 NKJV

    but our voters?

    "But the witless can no more become wise
    than a wild donkey’s colt can be born human"

    Job 11:12