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Trolling, the Socratic Method

By dram in Culture
Wed May 23, 2001 at 01:53:13 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)
Internet

I ask a simple question: was Socrates a troll?

If we look at what trolls do, they "induce lots of newbies and flamers to make themselves look even more clueless than they already do." And this is the same thing that Socrates did. Plato stated in Apology that Socrates function was "to rouse, persuade and rebuke." Is this not the same thing?


If you read Plato's works and understand the Socratic Method you will see that Socrates does not offer opinion or fact but instead, asks questions and finds fallacies in the answers to these questions. He says things that will cause a deliberate and predicted response. He makes people reveal their own lack of knowledge while they try to show off their great intellect. This is the same as a troll getting neophytes to show themselves by posting obvious things.

Socrates was not a philosopher or a teacher, but instead an educator. The way he educated was by constantly doubting what people said and making them reexamine what they thought. He never let others know his own opinion, he just played devils advocate. This is once again the same thing as what trolls do, instead of stating their own opinion they post something that will get a rise out of others.

So why is it that we hold Socrates in such high regard but despise trolls who do the exact same thing? Why is it that all philosophers learn the Socratic Method but when people use it they are looked down upon?

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Trolling, the Socratic Method | 51 comments (38 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
Must be more than I thought.. (3.87 / 8) (#5)
by Sheepdot on Thu May 17, 2001 at 11:23:17 PM EST

If doing nothing but asking a series of questions and not making any statements is trolling, more folks on K5 are trolling than I thought.

When I am faced with nothing but pathos questions (these really irk me, as they often come from "Think of the children"ites) I tend to answer a couple directly, and try to turn the rest back as a question directed towards them.

I guess I've always thought of Socrates as a fiesty fogie. But he actually *taught* this way.

For a GREAT example of someone teaching binary to 3rd graders using the Socratic method, copy and past the following URL:

http://www.garlikov.com/Soc_Meth.html


He was such a pain in the ass they executed him. (4.59 / 22) (#7)
by elenchos on Thu May 17, 2001 at 11:49:03 PM EST

We may like him now, but at the time it was only his clique who thought he was cool. The people he went around subjecting to the Socratic method didn't appreciate it, not that you can blame them. They certainly weren't thanking him for upsetting their apple cart. You might want to look a little closer, by the way. Socrates says he never expresses an opinion, but then he turns around and takes a position and pushes it all the time. Pretty trollish, actually.

That is just Plato's Socrates, who was really a persona Plato was using for his own ends (not unlike a troll). Xenophon and Aristophanes have somewhat different versions of the "real" Socrates, and if you take them at all seriously (and why should you only believe Plato's version and not theirs?), then you have to start to admit that Socrates was probably s Sophist, even though he criticizes Sophists all the time. That's pretty trollish too.

I should also mention that there is pretty good evidence that they didn't really kill him for corrupting the young and introducing new gods, nor actually for being a pain in the ass. He was kind of on the wrong side politically in Athens, having been the teacher of a number of the unpopular generals and politicians, like Critias, leader of "The Thirty Tyrants." But the Amnesty of 403 meant the angry mob couldn't directly punish any of them, so they got at Critias and Alcibiades (the traitorous general and another of Socrates' pals) through Socrates, using the outrageous impiety charge as an excuse. No one else is known to have been put to death for having impious beliefs; on the contrary many pre-Socratics and Sophists had gotten away with saying the gods were fake or stupid or immoral, and no one did anything about it.

So sure, maybe we love Socrates now, but it is kind of a NIMBY thing, although personally I wouln't mind our lamer wannabe trolls one bit if they could just show one tenth the wit and brilliance of Socrates. Does that answer your question?

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have

Er, no... (4.50 / 2) (#21)
by trhurler on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:05:01 AM EST

Perhaps you should read Plato's Apology sometime. A few politically influential people organized Socrates' trial, and Socrates deliberately gave them what they wanted by defending himself in the manner of a jackass. He most likely could have arranged matters to get himself completely off the hook, had he gone with the "conventional" method of defending oneself under such circumstances, but he regarded it as beneath him to do so.

At least, that's what Plato has to say, and we have no better account or real reason to doubt that a man as odd as Socrates would not do such a thing. It could have happened otherwise, but your claim that it did is at best unsupported speculation.

--
And when you consider that Siggy is second only to trhurler as far as posters whose name at the top of a comment fill me with forboding, that's sayin
[ Parent ]
Everybody's read Plato's Apology. (4.00 / 3) (#34)
by elenchos on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:41:00 PM EST

Have you read anything besides that?

The minimum number of people needed to bring Socrates to trial was acutally one (adult male Athenian citizen), so that number isn't an issue. What is more important is the number who voted to convict him and execute him. There have been numerous speculations as to why he conducted his defense so poorly, according to Plato. Maybe Plato wanted to make him look heroic and dignified. Or maybe, as this theory goes, he knew the fix was in and said "fuck it."

Of course I never said this did happen. I said, "there is pretty good evidence that they didn't really kill him for corrupting the young and introducing new gods, nor actually for being a pain in the ass.." What support for this speculation is there? Motive, for one. Socrates was an enemy of democracy, his jury was inherently democratic. After losing the Peloponnesian War, Sparta installed an undemocratic puppet regime, choosing from the leading Athenian politicians and aristocrats those most sympathetic to oligarchy. Whom did they pick? Pupils of that Socrates guy. Would the mass of citizens being oppresssed by Socrates' followers be influenced by this? How could they not?

The governmnet of the Thirty Tyrants was an awful time in Athens. Denunciations, oppression, collaberation, and resistance. After the hated foreign-imposed government had been thrown off, they had the problem faced by post-WWII France or post-Apartheid South Africa. Do we want more bloodshed persecuting the collaborators? Where will that end? So they chose the Amnesty instead, and gave everyone a clean slate for whatever they did under the Thirty. A wise social and political move, but that doesn't mean all the old grudges just disappear. Killing Socrates wasn't just about a few guys who had it in for him. There were a hell of a lot of people who wanted to see him and his circle pay. They couln't get at Critias or Alcibiades, but they found a way to get Socrates, or so it seems.

So it starts to look like a sensible explanation for why so many Athenians could vote to convict him for such a bizzare charge. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of course, but you would think we would have some record of others being convicted of similar charges. Instead we have evidence of several getting away with it.

So if you want, you can just believe the one source, Plato, even though he had his own fish to fry. Or you can cast your net wider and see that these events didn't happen in isolation, nor in stasis, and so the underlying truth is very likely more complex and interesting than what a single advocate wishes to portray it as.

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have
[ Parent ]

So then, (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by trhurler on Mon May 21, 2001 at 11:04:26 AM EST

Let me make sure I understand. You've read Greek history from the standpoint of someone who was looking for precisely the opposite of what Plato stood for(ie, you're for democracy and against the rule of an unelected elite,) and so you insist that your interpretation is correct, whereas others, who perhaps are less sympathetic to the democratic ideal of rule by a mob of emotionally infantile, easily manipulated, ignorant fools, find a different interpretation. Neither group has any solid evidence; the best we have is second or even thirdhand stories and speculation.

The difference is, the account from the apology is at least firsthand. It may be biased, and conceivably it may be an outright fiction - but it has some chance of being correct. Your game of connect the dots is like trying to figure out what a car looks like from a 500 piece puzzle picture given only 10 pieces. The conclusion? It's black and round, because your pieces were all tire. Whee... history as a victim of political bias. (And yes, there IS so much of ancient history missing that this is what you're doing, whether you realize it or not. Hell, it is hard to find a verifiable account of much of what happened a hundred years ago, much less in ancient times.) Either position could be correct, and maybe neither is - but which one has the support of the best (as opposed merely to most numerous surviving, which is pointless when all but a tiny fraction of the evidence is lost anyway,) evidence?

--
And when you consider that Siggy is second only to trhurler as far as posters whose name at the top of a comment fill me with forboding, that's sayin
[ Parent ]
Gotta see the warts and all. (4.50 / 2) (#45)
by elenchos on Tue May 22, 2001 at 06:23:04 AM EST

I keep having to remind you that I never overstated the case in the way you accuse. I did not "insist that my interpretation is correct." I said there is evidence enough to make the alternative perspective plausible. It isn't the least bit of a radical thing to say and unfortunately for me I can hardly claim to have originated it. It takes only the smallest bit of indepentent thinking to realize that if Plato and Xenophon were Socrates' students and members of his faction, they might just possibly put a little spin on things, and that the the truth of things is somewhat different. It is not radical at all to observe that Plato was anti-democratic, and he makes Socrates sound that way as well.

For one example, the hardly rash or imprudent Oxford Classical Dictionary has this to say about Socrates' political entanglement:

Socrates' circle included a number of figures who turned against democracy in Athens, including Critias, Charmides, and Alcibiades. This may well have been the underlying reason why he himself was tried and put to death by drinking hemlock in 399 BC... This charge may have masked the political motives of his accusers, since the amnesty of 403 BC prohibited prosecution for political offenses commited before that date.
This is not a condemnation of Plato or anyone else; on the contrary his criticisms of democracy were generally right on target and remain valid and instructive even today. The important thing to me is that no matter if you like Plato and Socrates (as I do) or if you like democracy (as I do), you need to still read critically and see that, as the Sophist Antiphon said, "There are two sides to every argument."

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have
[ Parent ]

not really (5.00 / 3) (#23)
by samth on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:19:33 AM EST

We may like him now, but at the time it was only his clique who thought he was cool.

Well, his 'clique' seems to have been fairly significant. If you look at the people he has as friends in Plato's dialogues, they include many of the most respected people in Athens. So while it is true that not everyone liked him, to say that it was just 'his clique' seems wrong.

The people he went around subjecting to the Socratic method didn't appreciate it, not that you can blame them. They certainly weren't thanking him for upsetting their apple cart.

Interestingly, this is in fact Socrates's position on the charges in Plato's apology. However, it differs rather strongly from both what Meletus says in the Apology, and from what Xenophon says in Socrate's Defense.

You might want to look a little closer, by the way. Socrates says he never expresses an opinion, but then he turns around and takes a position and pushes it all the time. Pretty trollish, actually.

Really? Where? And what evidence do you have that this isn't Plato or Xenophon pushing a position? Most of the Platonic dialogues where he pushes a position are the later dialogues, which are thought to bear much less resemblence to the historical Socrates.

That is just Plato's Socrates, who was really a persona Plato was using for his own ends (not unlike a troll).

First, this is now Plato that you are attacking, not Socrates. Second, Plato's Socrates bears an interesting and unknown releationship to the beliefs of the historical Socrates. Thirdly, Plato most likely has the most legitimate claim to represent the legacy of the historical Socrates (having studied under him for years). Fourth, using historical figures in works of literature is, and was, a widespread practice, especially with Socrates. A large number of people, including Plato and Xenophon, wrote Socratic dialogues after his death. This bears little to no relation to trolling.

Xenophon and Aristophanes have somewhat different versions of the "real" Socrates, and if you take them at all seriously (and why should you only believe Plato's version and not theirs?),

Xenophon's version agrees much more closely with Plato's than does Aristophanes. Additionally, Aristophanes was a comic poet, who made lots of accusations about lots of people, many of them unlikely to be true. As Conford writes in The Origin of Attic Comedy

The glaringly unhistorical picture of Socrates in the Clouds has excited the wonder of many generations. [1]
And again later
It is not likely that we can add anything whatsoever to our knowledge of the historic Socrates from the Clouds. [2]
then you have to start to admit that Socrates was probably s Sophist, even though he criticizes Sophists all the time. That's pretty trollish too.

The only person who gives evidence for this is Aristophanes, in the Clouds, which I've already addressed. Additionally, Diogenes Laertius, a commentator from the early 3rd century AD, writes,

his aim being not to alter [the other person's] opinion, but to get at the truth. [3]
I should also mention that there is pretty good evidence that they didn't really kill him for corrupting the young and introducing new gods, nor actually for being a pain in the ass. He was kind of on the wrong side politically in Athens, having been the teacher of a number of the unpopular generals and politicians, like Critias, leader of "The Thirty Tyrants." But the Amnesty of 403 meant the angry mob couldn't directly punish any of them, so they got at Critias and Alcibiades (the traitorous general and another of Socrates' pals) through Socrates, using the outrageous impiety charge as an excuse. No one else is known to have been put to death for having impious beliefs; on the contrary many pre-Socratics and Sophists had gotten away with saying the gods were fake or stupid or immoral, and no one did anything about it.

First, precisely what is this evidence?

Second, Critias and Alcibiades are reffered to in the Apology both by his accusers and by Socrates. The other charge against Socrates was that he corrupted the youth, and these were the primary examples given. However, there are a number of good reasons to suggest that Socrates was very much not at fault for the crimes of these two students. For example, Socrates discusses in the Apology (and this is backed up by other sources) that the Thirty were quite hostile to Socrates. Additionally, as Socrates points out, the crimes of these students began when the stopped associating with Socrates, suggesting some other cause of trouble.

So sure, maybe we love Socrates now, but it is kind of a NIMBY thing,

We have plenty of philosophers and other people today that are much more annoying than Socrates ever could have been. Just compare tabloid journalists. And yet we still love him, and tolerate them.

although personally I wouln't mind our lamer wannabe trolls one bit if they could just show one tenth the wit and brilliance of Socrates.

Certainly.

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill. --Marcus Aurelius, Med. ii.

I find it interesting that this is an extremely Socratic statement. Plus your nick is fairly close to elenchus. Coincidence?

[1] Francis Conford, The Origin of Attic Comedy, University of Michigan Press, Page 137.
[2] ibid p. 140
[3] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers, from Richard Levin, The Question of Socrates, Harcourt, Brace, and World, p. 184.


Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]

I admire the Sophists a lot. (4.00 / 1) (#33)
by elenchos on Fri May 18, 2001 at 08:54:34 PM EST

And I think Socrates was one, or at least a kind of Sophist. Most of your statemets can be taken to reinforce the idea that there is no one "historical" Socrates; there are many different portraits of him, and they change over time. Which is why the idea that the version of him in The Clouds being unhistorical makes little sense. What that statement really means is that the version of Socrates in the other two sources is "true" and the Socrates being criticized by Aristophanes is not. Which then begs the questions that we began with: Which one is the "real" Socrates? Which sources should we believe?

I am just describing what we have about him, not "attacking" him. To attack him we would at least need something he himself wrote, which we do not have. All we have are these personas, masks.

And the historical context, which is substantial. Thucydides might be one place to look for some of this context. You say that Socrates' associates were popular. Critias? Alcibiades? History is dynamic and Athenian democracy was nothing if not fickle, though they had some reason to turn on these once-popular politicians. By following the rising and falling stars of Socrates' pupils, it becomes much clearer why he was singled out on this unheard of charge, and why they went after him when they did. Being an opponent of democracy, and associated with the "Thirty Tyrants" puppet regime installed by the Spartans must have had far more sway on the jury than any snide or impious remarks Socrates made. That he would go out of his way at his trial to disassociate himself from the Thirty suggests that he knew what whas on the jury's mind. Again, we don't know what "really" went on. But we have to judge what is plausible based on the big picture, not just Plato, or even just Plato and Xenophon. The political satires of powerful politicians in the plays, and the writings of other philosophers show that there was supstantial room for freedom of expression in Athens, in contradiction to the ostensible reason for Socrates' persecution.

So anyway, I do think Socrates is a wonderful character, but any claim to know something about the "real" Socrates based only on a couple authors and excluding the surrounding evidence is woefully inadquate, blinkered in fact. This narrowness of viewpoint is further evidenced by an apparent ignorance of the variant spellings elenchos/elenchus (oh please don't tell me that one is "correct" and the other is "wrong"), and possibly an inability to recgnize a Stoic descendent of Socratic thought.

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have
[ Parent ]

but socrates wasn't one (5.00 / 2) (#35)
by samth on Sat May 19, 2001 at 02:27:47 AM EST

I have very little regard for the sophists, since they had little regard for the logic or truth of their arguments. Socrates did not have this problem.

And I think Socrates was one, or at least a kind of Sophist.

First, what's your definition of Sophist? Maybe it's one that Socrates fits, but I doubt it.

Second, aside from Aristophanes, what evidence do you have for your claim that Socrates was a Sophist?

Most of your statemets can be taken to reinforce the idea that there is no one "historical" Socrates; there are many different portraits of him, and they change over time.

Which one of my statements reinforced this fact? I attempted to present a fairly coherent and consisten view of Socrates, and provided evidence for dismissing claims of a different view of Socrates.

Which is why the idea that the version of him in The Clouds being unhistorical makes little sense. What that statement really means is that the version of Socrates in the other two sources is "true" and the Socrates being criticized by Aristophanes is not. Which then begs the questions that we began with: Which one is the "real" Socrates? Which sources should we believe?

It does not beg the question at all. It answers the question: we should believe Plato, Xenophon, and Diogenes Laertius, among other commentators. It would only beg the question if we used the Platonic Socrates to prove the truth of the Platonic Socrates. But I haven't done that.

The evidence for rejecting the Socrates of the Clouds goes like this:

  • The Socrates of the Clouds is inconsistent with the Socrates of virtually every other contemporary or otherwise ancient author.
  • The Socrates of the Clouds fits very closely a dramatic stereotype in wide use in Greek drama.
  • Finally, this Socrates is attributed characteristics of many different types of Greek philosophers, ranging from the asceticism of Socrates to the speechmaking of the Sophists. There is no evidence from any other sources that these characteristics were brought together in any historical figure.
The latter two arguments are heavily drawn from the Conford reference I cited.

I am just describing what we have about him, not "attacking" him. To attack him we would at least need something he himself wrote, which we do not have. All we have are these personas, masks.

This is simply false. We have evidence about what the historical Socrates was like. That's all we have about any historical figure. We, in fact, have lots of evidence about Socrates, far more than about many historical figures. Most of the Presocratic philosophers left far less evidence, and yet people analyze them all the time.

And the historical context, which is substantial. Thucydides might be one place to look for some of this context. You say that Socrates' associates were popular. Critias? Alcibiades? History is dynamic and Athenian democracy was nothing if not fickle, though they had some reason to turn on these once-popular politicians. By following the rising and falling stars of Socrates' pupils, it becomes much clearer why he was singled out on this unheard of charge, and why they went after him when they did. Being an opponent of democracy, and associated with the "Thirty Tyrants" puppet regime installed by the Spartans must have had far more sway on the jury than any snide or impious remarks Socrates made. That he would go out of his way at his trial to disassociate himself from the Thirty suggests that he knew what whas on the jury's mind.

/me gets out the Thucydides.

Well, the historical context is always substantial, but not always in Thucydides. For example, my edition doesn't even mention Critias in the index. He does have a lot to say about Alcibiades, but it doesn't really give us any new information. Plato's Apology aknowledges the role that the crimes of a few of his pupils may have had for the jury.

Second, neither you or I have any idea what was on the jury's mind. We have no statement by them, merely what they voted.

Third, I take significant exception to your claim that Socrates was "an opponent of democracy". This is untrue and unfounded. Such a remarkable claim requires evidence.

Again, we don't know what "really" went on. But we have to judge what is plausible based on the big picture, not just Plato, or even just Plato and Xenophon. The political satires of powerful politicians in the plays, and the writings of other philosophers show that there was supstantial room for freedom of expression in Athens, in contradiction to the ostensible reason for Socrates' persecution.

First, what precisely is that "big picture" you speak of? What other evidence, besides Aristophanes, would you bring in?

Second, since Plato and Xenophon are the two commentators that wrote the most about Socrates, and Plato especially had more access to Socrates than virtually anyone else, and certainly more than anyone else who's writings we have, why should we not give them more credence?

Third, there is definite precedent for the prosecution of philosophers in Athens. The best example is Anaxagoras, who was tried and banished (or executed, depending on who you believe) for impiety. [4] But Protagoras also discusses (in the Protagoras) the risks of being a teacher, and of upsetting community values. [5]

So anyway, I do think Socrates is a wonderful character, but any claim to know something about the "real" Socrates based only on a couple authors and excluding the surrounding evidence is woefully inadquate, blinkered in fact.

Precisely which surrounding evidence am I excluding? Besides Aristophanes, which virtually every modern commentator has a similar opinion of, and which I have given argument for excluding.

This narrowness of viewpoint is further evidenced by an apparent ignorance of the variant spellings elenchos/elenchus (oh please don't tell me that one is "correct" and the other is "wrong"), and possibly an inability to recgnize a Stoic descendent of Socratic thought.

First, this is an uncalled-for personal attack.

Second, the fact that I do not know the various potential spellings of certain Greek words suggests exactly nothing about my philosophical viewpoint. Additionally, I've never seen it spelled elenchos, and am glad to know something new.

And I did recognize the Socratic elements in the Aurelius quote in your signature, that's what I was pointing out.

[4] The Question of Socrates, p. 182
[5] Plato, Protagoras, 316c ff.

Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]

You shouldn't believe FUD. (4.00 / 2) (#36)
by elenchos on Sat May 19, 2001 at 08:51:38 AM EST

Do you think it is actually a fact that there were an entire class of itinerant teachers who arose in the Greek city-states as democracy was becoming widespread who "had little regard for the logic or truth of their arguments?" Do you think many would pay such people to educate their children? Or could it be that this characterization was spread by thier critics in order to discredit them? Could this slander against the Sophists be nothing but old fashioned FUD?

Again, I say, look at the context. The Assembly in Athens allowed the lowest classes (of adult male citizens) a chance to acquire power based solely on their ability to stand up in front of everyone and give speeches that influenced the vote. From the point of view of their class this was a great opportunity, and a chance to take power away from aristocrats based on merit rather than wealth and connections. But you could look at is in a negative light too, and say that it was a chance for scoundrels to fool the mob with cheap rhetorical tricks and flattery. The Sophists were a natural target for those who opposed this new form of government. Along with the Rhetoriticians, they represented democracy and all that came with it, both good and ill. Those who truly knew how to rule (the aristocrats) would be pushed aside by clever word play, and it was the Sophists who were teaching these dirty tricks. Socrates, an aristocrat who apparently never worked and never took money for teaching, seemed to be doing exactly the same things as the Sophists in all other respects. But they were aiding the radicalization of democracy and helping to shift power away from those of his own class, whom Socrates thought more fit to rule. So he picks at them especially for taking money for their services, and claims that they care nothing for truth, and belittles their skills at logic. This is similar to the rule allowing only amateurs to participate in the modern Olympic Games, as a way of excluding the lower classes who lacked the leisure time to pursue these arts for their own sake. You can see how the aristocratic and anti-democratic Socrates would want to distance himself from the Sophists, even though he essentially did exactly what they did, and built on their prior work.

To me the generalization the most fits the Sophists was that they were social critics and skeptics, often radical skeptics. Unlike Socrates and Plato, and especially Aristotle, who frequently took whatever Greek conventional wisdom took for granted and supported it with post hoc justifications, the Sophists called it all into question. For example, none of these great thinkers in ancient Greece ever criticized or questioned the belief that slavery was natural and good, except one group: the Sophists. That alone should intrigue you. If they cared nothing for truth, but Socrates and Plato did, why didn't Plato and Socrates ever wonder if this was fair? Could it be that they were susceptible to being deluded by self-interest and prejudice on issues like slavery? But the Sophists, with their willingness to say that mere human laws are infinitely changeable, and are only the result of what people say they are, could look past those prejudices. That is a dangerous thing, but also a useful one.

Looking at the kind of things the Sophists actually said, sure we have examples of `sophistry' in the vernacular sense, as in Gorgias' proof that nothing exists. You may regard that as a denial that there is any truth, but I think it is a useful reminder that clever words are deceptive, and can "prove" anything you wish. This is what Gorgias meant in his defense of Helen. As the Sophist Antiphon said, "There are two opposing arguments concerning everything." And most famously, "Man is the measure of all things-- of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not."

With regard to the trial of Socrates, I don't really feel like writing a long essay on it, so I am pleased to have discovered online the very source of this interpretation of those events, in this interview with I.F. Stone. Maybe this needs to be an MLP. Since you seem to like footnotes and quotations, I think you will appreciate it, and will be able to use it as a guide to examine the relevant evidence yourself. To really go in depth, you should find Stone's book, The Trial of Socrates.

Finally, these statements should be an embarrassment to you:

    Second, neither you or I have any idea what was on the jury's mind. We have no statement by them, merely what they voted.

    Third, I take significant exception to your claim that Socrates was "an opponent of democracy". This is untrue and unfounded. Such a remarkable claim requires evidence.

The first one is thoroughly refuted in the I.F. Stone interview. Athens was a direct democracy. We know what was on their minds by what they did. Their policies were what they thought. Want to know what the Athenians thought? Look at Athenian history. If we can claim to know anything about what Socrates thought, we can at least make a good estimate of what the Athenian citizens were thinking.

As far as the idea that Socrates was not anti-democratic, WTF? It makes me wonder if you are just trolling. How often does Socrates say things like "When a man is in training, does he pay attention to all praise and criticism and opinion indiscriminately, or only when it comes from the one qualified person, the actual doctor or trainer?... he should be afraid of the criticism and welcome the praise of the one qualified person, but not those of the general public" (Crito 47c). He uses that kind of analogy again and again. Why? It is an attack on what he saw as mob rule. This is the whole point of the Apology. Noble man condemned by mobocracy. Recall in the Euthyphro when Socrates meets a man on his way to prosecute his own father for murder outside the magistrate? What is the point of showing this terrible son going to abuse the law to do this awful thing? Look at the context. The laws of Athens had been democratized to allow any adult male citizen to prosecute a case against anyone else. This was a radical break form the past, where no crime was prosecuted except by the victim or his family. Crimes against the poor, foreigners or slaves (as in the Euthyphro) could go unpunished because there was no one to bring a case on their behalf. The new law allowed anyone to play the role of prosecutor, meaning that a much greater portion of the populace had a chance at justice, and Plato's dialogue is an attack on that. He is saying that such a system is abused to evil purposes by wicked men like Euthyphro. Later of course, when Socrates becomes purely a mouthpiece for Plato, as in the Republic, democracy is even further denigrated.

There is nothing extraordinary about this claim; Socrates' contempt for democracy is found in nearly everything he says. I would instead challenge you to show me any argument he makes in favor of ordinary men being allowed to run their own state. Where does he not come down foursquare against the rule by the many?

That's enough for now. I rarely do point by point refutations, because it is too much work. Go and read I.F. Stone's argument, and follow the references to the original texts. And maybe read some of the actual words of the Sophists and the pre-Socratics, rather than just what Plato has to say about them. They are not at all the fools or scoundrels he makes them out to be.

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have
[ Parent ]

what FUD? (5.00 / 2) (#39)
by samth on Sat May 19, 2001 at 01:48:13 PM EST

I really wish that people wouldn't claim that everything they disagreed with was FUD. It causes the term itself to lose whatever small measure of interesting meaning it once had.

Do you think it is actually a fact that there were an entire class of itinerant teachers who arose in the Greek city-states as democracy was becoming widespread who "had little regard for the logic or truth of their arguments?" Do you think many would pay such people to educate their children? Or could it be that this characterization was spread by thier critics in order to discredit them? Could this slander against the Sophists be nothing but old fashioned FUD?

Maybe. But then again, maybe I think that because I've read the works of prominent Sophists, and came to that conclusion on my own. I think it would be appropriate if you didn't always assume that I had read nothing of the literature on the subject.

As to why people would pay them, there is significant evidence that they were effective speakers, and that speaking effectively was a valued talent in Athens, all the more so because of the democracy, and the way the assembly worked. Thus, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that people would still pay for their services, even if their project was not a philosophical, but a rhetorical one.

Again, I say, look at the context. The Assembly in Athens allowed the lowest classes (of adult male citizens) a chance to acquire power based solely on their ability to stand up in front of everyone and give speeches that influenced the vote. From the point of view of their class this was a great opportunity, and a chance to take power away from aristocrats based on merit rather than wealth and connections. But you could look at is in a negative light too, and say that it was a chance for scoundrels to fool the mob with cheap rhetorical tricks and flattery. The Sophists were a natural target for those who opposed this new form of government. Along with the Rhetoriticians, they represented democracy and all that came with it, both good and ill. Those who truly knew how to rule (the aristocrats) would be pushed aside by clever word play, and it was the Sophists who were teaching these dirty tricks.

Both of these perspectives on democracy are correct. I think we both know the Churchill quote on the subject.

The Sophists did not represent the positive aspects of democracy nearly as much, however. Take the might makes right doctrines of Thrasymachus, for example (Republic I). Even Thucydides recognized the potential perils of the Assembly being convinced by the wrong speech. (History, Book III, 36).

Socrates, an aristocrat who apparently never worked nd never took money for teaching, seemed to be doing exactly the same things as the Sophists in all other respects. But they were aiding the radicalization of democracy and helping to shift power away from those of his own class, whom Socrates thought more fit to rule.

I hope you know better than to actually believe this statement. Socrates was a stonemason at least in the beginning of his life, as his father was. Furthermore, the only evidence I've ever seen for his having wealth was his service in the heavy infantry. In the Apology, he professes to be able to pay litte, until his aristocratic friends offer their own money. Again in the Crito he states that he doesn't have the money to buy his way out of prison. He was certainly not a member of the aristocracy, although he was supported by many of them.

So he picks at them especially for taking money for their services, and claims that they care nothing for truth, and belittles their skills at logic. This is similar to the rule allowing only amateurs to participate in the modern Olympic Games, as a way of excluding the lower classes who lacked the leisure time to pursue these arts for their own sake. You can see how the aristocratic and anti-democratic Socrates would want to distance himself from the Sophists, even though he essentially did exactly what they did, and built on their prior work.

Well, admitting that would require admitting that Socrates was aristocratic and anti-democratic, which I'm not willing to do. I also disagree that Socrates did exactly what they did. The Sophists, for example, taught people rhetoric, and how to win arguments. There is no evidence that I have seen that Socrates was a teacher of rhetoric.

And exactly how did he build on their prior work?

To me the generalization the most fits the Sophists was that they were social critics and skeptics, often radical skeptics.

Many of them were skeptics, even to the point of the nihilism of Gorgias, which was a distortion of the real Eleatic philosophy. However, I find little evidence of social criticsm in their work, what little of it survives. Plato and Socrates both criticized the existing order of things (how could they not, given their anti-democratic stance, as you claim?). If you have citations for this social critique, please, point it out.

Unlike Socrates and Plato, and especially Aristotle, who frequently took whatever Greek conventional wisdom took for granted and supported it with post hoc justifications, the Sophists called it all into question.

Anyone who calls Aristotle a social critic is crazy. But what else could you call a philosopher who advocates a total revamping of society, as Plato does?

For example, none of these great thinkers in ancient Greece ever criticized or questioned the belief that slavery was natural and good, except one group: the Sophists. That alone should intrigue you.

That does indeed intrigue me. Could you provide some pointers to texts that I could read? Thanks.

If they cared nothing for truth, but Socrates and Plato did, why didn't Plato and Socrates ever wonder if this was fair? Could it be that they were susceptible to being deluded by self-interest and prejudice on issues like slavery? But the Sophists, with their willingness to say that mere human laws are infinitely changeable, and are only the result of what people say they are, could look past those prejudices. That is a dangerous thing, but also a useful one.

Well, Aristotle is best associated with justification of slavery. However, it is correct that Plato and Socrates never attacked this institution, although Socrates was willing to engage anyone, even a slave, in dialogue, and believe that all people, even slaves, had innate knowledge. This is clearly a failing. However, it says nothing about whether or not they were interested in truth, or whether the Sophists were.

Looking at the kind of things the Sophists actually said, sure we have examples of `sophistry' in the vernacular sense, as in Gorgias' proof that nothing exists. You may regard that as a denial that there is any truth, but I think it is a useful reminder that clever words are deceptive, and can "prove" anything you wish. This is what Gorgias meant in his defense of Helen. As the Sophist Antiphon said, "There are two opposing arguments concerning everything." And most famously, "Man is the measure of all things-- of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not."

This proves precisely my point. The Sophists were interested in the argument, and not the truth. Gorgias' "proof" is a demonstration of rhetorical skill. The fact that it is illogical is neither a flaw nor a benifit, it is simply irrelevant. And that's precisely the position that I, and Plato, take exception to.

With regard to the trial of Socrates, I don't really feel like writing a long essay on it, so I am pleased to have discovered online the very source of this interpretation of those events, in this interview with I.F. Stone. Maybe this needs to be an MLP. Since you seem to like footnotes and quotations, I think you will appreciate it, and will be able to use it as a guide to examine the relevant evidence yourself. To really go in depth, you should find Stone's book, The Trial of Socrates.

Thanks for the link. Although I disagree with most of what Stone says, it's very interesting, and I will go find his book. I hope you put it up as MLP, at which point I will write at greater length on why I think it's a weak argument.

Finally, these statements should be an embarrassment to you:

Second, neither you or I have any idea what was on the jury's mind. We have no statement by them, merely what they voted.

Third, I take significant exception to your claim that Socrates was "an opponent of democracy". This is untrue and unfounded. Such a remarkable claim requires evidence.

I find neither of those statement to be an embarrassement, and stand by both of them.

The first one is thoroughly refuted in the I.F. Stone interview. Athens was a direct democracy. We know what was on their minds by what they did. Their policies were what they thought. Want to know what the Athenians thought? Look at Athenian history. If we can claim to know anything about what Socrates thought, we can at least make a good estimate of what the Athenian citizens were thinking.

Stone does no such thing. He, like you or I, is entirely unable to know why the jury convicted him. His only piece of evidence is a single sentence for a speech made fifty years later, which could be interpreted to mean any number of things.

Knowing how a group voted is not enough to tell us what they though. Perhaps they were swayed by the persuasive powers of Meletus. Perhaps they were insulted by Socrates' speech. Perhaps they convicted him for being a religous deviant, and for starting a new cult, of which his corruption of Critias was only a manifestation. [6]

It is simply impossible to tell which of these most influenced the jury. You, especially, since you are unwilling to accept claims about Socrates given his lack of writings, should understand this.

As far as the idea that Socrates was not anti-democratic, WTF? It makes me wonder if you are just trolling.

Well, since I haven't been asking lots of question about virtue, I haven't been using the Socratic method, so I can't have been trolling. :-)

Seriously, that kind of attack is entirely uncalled for, and so blatantly out of line that I'm very surprised you made it. Have you ever seen a troll cite Conford. Really, you should apologize.

How often does Socrates say things like "When a man is in training, does he pay attention to all praise and criticism and opinion indiscriminately, or only when it comes from the one qualified person, the actual doctor or trainer?... he should be afraid of the criticism and welcome the praise of the one qualified person, but not those of the general public" (Crito 47c). He uses that kind of analogy again and again.

The statement that a professional is more skilled in the art of training is neither a controversial, nor an undemocratic one. It is, for example, the basis of our entire modern education system. If you didn't think that your professors could better educate you than the people you meet on the street, why did you go to college?

Why? It is an attack on what he saw as mob rule. This is the whole point of the Apology. Noble man condemned by mobocracy. Recall in the Euthyphro when Socrates meets a man on his way to prosecute his own father for murder outside the magistrate? What is the point of showing this terrible son going to abuse the law to do this awful thing? Look at the context. The laws of Athens had been democratized to allow any adult male citizen to prosecute a case against anyone else. This was a radical break form the past, where no crime was prosecuted except by the victim or his family. Crimes against the poor, foreigners or slaves (as in the Euthyphro) could go unpunished because there was no one to bring a case on their behalf. The new law allowed anyone to play the role of prosecutor, meaning that a much greater portion of the populace had a chance at justice, and Plato's dialogue is an attack on that. He is saying that such a system is abused to evil purposes by wicked men like Euthyphro.

That's certainly one potential interpretation of the dialogue. However, there's no suggestion by Socrates that the servant that Euthyphro's father killed should be defended by his family. Socrates is surprised by Euthyphro's unconventional attitude, something I find unremarkable. Euthyphro then claims to be an authority on piety, and the dialogue continues from there. I find it a strech to suggest that this is an attack on the system of law as you describe.

Furthermore, there is no suggestion that Euthyphro is wicked, merely that he, like most, thinks he knows about things that he doesn't.

Later of course, when Socrates becomes purely a mouthpiece for Plato, as in the Republic, democracy is even further denigrated.

This is certainly correct. Plato was not a fan of democracy, in large part because, as he saw it, democracy killed his mentor.

There is nothing extraordinary about this claim; Socrates' contempt for democracy is found in nearly everything he says. I would instead challenge you to show me any argument he makes in favor of ordinary men being allowed to run their own state. Where does he not come down foursquare against the rule by the many?

Ok, you want citations, I'll give you citations.

  • He refers repeatedly to the virtue of Athens, and it's greatness, and the greatness of it's citizens. (Apology 29d-e)
  • He refers to the "crimes" of the Thirty. (Apology 32d)
  • His speech on behalf of "the Laws" defends democracy. (Crito 51c-e)
  • However, the clearest statement I know off the top of my head in favor of democracy is in the Protagoras, where he describes how the Assembly listens to any and all on matters of politics, where on technical matters they only listen to experts. To quote Socrates, "well-born, low-born - it doesn't matter - ... nobody blasts him for presuming to give counsel without any prior training under a teacher". So here we have Socrates, great believer in the benifits of listening to experts, saying that we should listen to common people and rich people alike on the matters of politics. I don't see what more you could want. (Protagoras, 319d-e)
That's enough for now. I rarely do point by point refutations, because it is too much work. Go and read I.F. Stone's argument, and follow the references to the original texts. And maybe read some of the actual words of the Sophists and the pre-Socratics, rather than just what Plato has to say about them. They are not at all the fools or scoundrels he makes them out to be.

Try to refrain from ad hominem attacks, especially when you are wrong about them. I've read plenty of the Presocratics, including the Sophists, although they didn't leave behind much work.

[6]CCW Taylor, Socrates: A Very Short Introduction.


Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]

How strange (3.00 / 1) (#46)
by Xenophon Fenderson, the Carbon(d)ated on Tue May 22, 2001 at 09:59:35 PM EST

My name is Xenophon, and my grandfather is Greek, and I haven't read a damn thing written by any of the Greek philosophers. I take that back, I think I read something about blind guys sitting in a cave once in a class studying utopias. Would some of you more philosophically minded fellows direct me to some stuff to read that would provide a good introduction to the Greek philosophers?



--
Rev. Dr. Xenophon Fenderson, the Carbon(d)ated, KSC, mhm21x16, and the Patron Saint of All Things Plastic fnord
I'm proud of my Northern Tibetian heritage!
[ Parent ]
Some advice. (none / 0) (#47)
by dram on Wed May 23, 2001 at 02:28:27 PM EST

There are a few things you can do:

1) Take a class in the subject. Go to your local JC (or equivilant if you do not live in the US) and get your start there, then after that just keep reading peoples works.

2) Read about the people and there works on-line. Find websites that talk about Plato and the others so you can get some idea of whats going on befor you start reading their books. (This is my favorite)

3) Just start reading.

I don't know anything about you so for all I know you could be a 45 year old rocket scientist and would have no problem just picking up the books and reading, but I found that hard. Anyways, those are my suggestions.

-dram
[grant.henninger.name]

[ Parent ]

YHBT (3.50 / 8) (#10)
by chale on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:59:42 AM EST

sorry, had to get that out of the way.;-)

the Socratic Method is a dialog. the people who talked to Socrates wanted to talk to him. those who are trolling are trying to get someone to respond. if no one responds, it is not a dialog.


When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -John Muir

I don't think you are correct (3.20 / 5) (#11)
by dram on Fri May 18, 2001 at 03:19:22 AM EST

Many people did not want to talk to him. Some did, but they would not have killed him had they wanted to hear what he had to say. Much of the time he would challenge people. Say that they were afraid to face him because they would get shut down. And after a challenge like that what testosterone filled guy wouldn't go up against him?

-dram
[grant.henninger.name]

[ Parent ]
he chose (3.00 / 4) (#12)
by chale on Fri May 18, 2001 at 03:53:39 AM EST

to die. he was condemned to death by what appears to have been an orchestrated vote, but there is also evidence that to survive all he had to do was leave the community.

yes, he challenged the views of his community in the way he thought best. even though it was a democratic community, the votes were taken of those who were present and eligible to vote. if one person or a group of people wanted to get something, they only had to arrange the manner of the vote (the time, place and make-up of the voters).[gee, does that sound familiar?]

communities at that time were small. it would have been easy for those who did not like Socrates and his methods to simply not talk to him.(ala W.C.Fields)


When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -John Muir
[ Parent ]

No. (4.56 / 16) (#13)
by Inoshiro on Fri May 18, 2001 at 03:55:40 AM EST

Socrates, at least in the Plato book I read, asked people questions. He then used their answers to craft more questions which would serve to illustrate a point. This dialog was how he taught.

"Trolls" as I have seen on webboards (at least those which are not just crap flooders, or random people who need to 'get a life') are people who purposefully say (not ask!) self-serving statements. These statements can be made to ignite tensions, get sympathy/support, or just to disagree for the purpose of disagreeing.

Thankfully most people grow past the juvenile need to disagree with everything which anyone remotely authority-like says (or, by inference, the overall group consensus), into the stage where they have the patience and whit to conduct a socratic dialog. But a lot don't. The people who are rabid anti-MS, until you throw them in with a group of Linux people. They will cosider aloud the benefits of MS software to the group ef Linux users for no reason than to 'be different.' I ignore such people.



--
[ イノシロ ]
I disagree :) (3.25 / 4) (#18)
by cezarg on Fri May 18, 2001 at 10:18:35 AM EST

I for one think breaking out of the pack is good. You have to challenge assumptions. Otherwise all you see is your own side of the story. Assumptions such as "Linux is better than windows" are propagated throughout various weblogs simply because the innertia effect generated by a large gathering of people who share certain common sentiments. I'm not saying however, that you should always disagree. That's juvenile. But with forums like slashdot (and Kuro5hin to an extent) anything that challenges the common set of values held by an average reader gets you marked as a Troll or a Flamebait. This is a downward spiral. Pro MS people no longer post on slashdot beacuse they will get moderated downwards and their voice will be lost in the noise. The spiral leads to a self congratulating, self assuring community where nobody seeks any refinement to the core values because those values are never challenged. Smart trolling is immensely useful as it often makes (smart) people stop and think: "are things really the way I always thought they were?". This is a long winded reply but my point is that if you silence trolls (criticism) you end up all singing in a single voice but at that point you're just preaching to the choir. For a living proof of that check any MS related article on slashdot.

Thank you.

[ Parent ]

It is a spiral. (4.00 / 2) (#40)
by Inoshiro on Sat May 19, 2001 at 05:55:23 PM EST

"You have to challenge assumptions." No. You only have to be a rational, thinking being. This includes learning that rocking the boat for the purpose of rocking the boat is as intelligent and useful as eating all foods because you can. Everything has a time, a place, and needs to be execised in moderation. People think they're doing this by saying things they don't believe in, merely for effect. After a while, they lose their original purpose.

Trolls are not useful bearers of light, teaching everyone a well deserved lesson. There are only people who say things to illustrate a point. Signal 11 got karma because he said things he stood behind. Trolls only say things because they want to control others. Or because they think they are right, and are tyring to change other people's minds -- not by logic or reason, but by insulting them.



--
[ イノシロ ]
[ Parent ]
Troll or Wizard ?? Monty Python's Proof (4.12 / 8) (#14)
by Komodo321 on Fri May 18, 2001 at 08:38:06 AM EST

Trolls might occasionally serve as the grain of sand that leads to a pearl of wisdom, but they are mostly an irritation. Socrates was not a troll trying to get his jollies from yanking someone's chain - he had a plan for developing a person's thinking skills in very specific ways.

And I disagree when you say that he was not a philosopher. Socrate's method was part of an active search for Sophia, or wisdom.

I suggest that you watch the Monty Python sketch on the argument clinic. The professional troll might trigger a small realization (like "this guy is being ridiculous") but it isn't the pursuit of wisdom. The Python humor arises from the stupidity of the troll.

Socrates was not a troll (4.71 / 14) (#15)
by pookieballs on Fri May 18, 2001 at 09:25:12 AM EST

Fairly early on in the Apology, Socrates relates a story of how a friend of his once went to the oracle at Delphi and was told that no man was wiser than Socrates. This confused Socrates no end because he didn't think himself particularly wise, and so he set out to either prove the god wrong or figure out what he meant.

The method that he employed, elenchos, involved reasoning like that we see in the early Platonic dialogues - a question gets posed initially, like what is virtue, then Socrates questions people, then they answer and so on back and forth, with the general outcome being that at the end of the dialogue, they still know nothing, but the ignorance is is slightly more clearly elucidated.

Trolls don't generally (ever in my experience) operate like this. Though the conduct of the socratic elenchos is destructive in a sense (or at least, not particularly constructive - you never get anywhere) its goal is to advance knowledge - it is a good faith effort. Not so with trolls. They're closer to sophists, interested in eristic arguments to produce discort, or in spouting arguments and assertions that advance an viewpoint that they may or may not really agree with for the purposes of providing argumentative exercise. They are not interested in knowledge, but in arguing and creating a stir and making themselves look cool.

This distinction, and the inability of some to see it, was responsible for trial and condemnation of Socrates. Well, that and the hurt that the questioning caused to the pride of the influential.

An unsophistricated Socratic dialogue (3.00 / 3) (#20)
by slaytanic killer on Fri May 18, 2001 at 10:50:07 AM EST

I imagine Socrates would ask questions such as:

Where do you know this?

Plato's writeup of my apology? Is Socrates in Plato's writings Socrates the man, or Socrates the idealization?

Well yes, I found Xenophon's version a bit closer to the poor dead me too, though I do love my Bubba. Let us say for the sake of argument that trolls differ from Socrates in that trolls seek to produce discord. Did Socrates not produce discord? Was he not condemned for teaching youths to debate without concern for truth?

Quite true, the pre-dead Socrates did not agree either. But is that not what you charge against the trolls, and some disagree with that charge?

[ Parent ]
A big problem with that distinction... (3.00 / 2) (#26)
by marlowe on Fri May 18, 2001 at 12:15:26 PM EST

is that the victims are entirely unable or unwilling to make it. To the Athenians who condemned him to death, Socrates was a "troll."

Consider the implications of this. If the proper meaning of the word "troll" is determined by its common usage, then emulators of Socrates and of the sophists are alike "trolls." It would be more proper to say they are two different types of troll. We could, for instance, take a cue from the Wiccans, crackers et al, and speak of "white trolls" and "black trolls."

And if the proper meaning of the word "troll" is not determined by its common usage, then by what is it determined? Is online jargon mature enough for the prescriptivists to step in?


-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
[ Parent ]
but the Athenians didn't have trolls (3.00 / 1) (#38)
by samth on Sat May 19, 2001 at 01:16:26 PM EST

To the Athenians who condemned him to death, Socrates was a "troll."

Since the Athenians didn't have the net, Socrates could not have been a troll in the sense of the Jargon File.

Since the Athenians did not use the word "troll" to describe Socrates, the word could not have had some other, contextually determined meaning which applies to Socrates.

What, then, is your definition of troll which applies to Socrates?

Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]

Simple (3.83 / 6) (#22)
by trhurler on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:14:07 AM EST

Trolls are mostly 18 year old punks who post deliberately inflammatory material that even they don't believe, then when called on it claim that they're just trying to enlighten the masses. Nevermind that they ARE the masses and that they're no more clueful than the next turd with a keyboard; they're here to show you how it is! They certainly do not merely ask questions, and in general, they will not leave people alone when asked to do so. They're more akin to the sophist tradition than the Socratic. But of course, if you could look into their heads, they think they're models of human virtue, and they're SO much smarter and more knowledgable than you are! Of course, they wouldn't say so... because you know, they're models of virtue!

--
And when you consider that Siggy is second only to trhurler as far as posters whose name at the top of a comment fill me with forboding, that's sayin
Was Socrates made in a day? (3.75 / 4) (#25)
by slaytanic killer on Fri May 18, 2001 at 11:57:11 AM EST

In the Grecian days, there were no doubt many doofusses, and one Socrates. I would imagine that it took a while for Socrates to become the one we know. Perhaps he noted a rising impatience in himself for the repetitive arguments of debaters, which led him just to ask questions about their weak points.

Does Socrates extend to present day forums? A patient listener is good for open-air debates, since he commands everyone's attention for a few minutes. But on web forums, people learn to gloss over and filter a number of different responses, and one can't just assume that he can ask a long string of questions. A more aggressive approach may be required.

There is some wisdom in the evolution of trolls, even if trolling itself isn't wise. I think if we detach from trolls being human, we learn a lot about our systems from these trolls. What is the best way we communicate? How are we different from the Greeks?

Forget for the moment that I'm a "troll apologist." I enjoy playing whack-a-troll with moderation as much as the next person.

[ Parent ]
sorry, but no (4.64 / 14) (#27)
by samth on Fri May 18, 2001 at 12:27:30 PM EST

Important characteristics of the elenchus (Socrates' question and answer format):

Asking questions.
Socrates: yes
Trolls: no

Engaging in dialogue
Socrates: yes
Trolls: no

Admitting lack of knowledge
Socrates: yes
Trolls: no

Seeking the truth
Socrates: yes
Trolls: no

Willingness to listen
Socrates: yes
Trolls: no

So, I think your thesis fails.

Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite

socrates the man = troll, socratic method != troll (2.80 / 5) (#29)
by speek on Fri May 18, 2001 at 04:24:51 PM EST

It's pretty clear to me that Socrates the man used trolling techniques to goad people into discussion. Many times he is brilliantly sarcastic (such as when he suggests in his apology that his punishment should be for the state to support him economically for as long as he lives, while he continues to educate the youths of the city). There are several such instances of sarcasm, some of which are not particularly subtle. Another example:

Euth. No, I do not remember him, Socrates. But what is the charge which he brings against you?

Soc. What is the charge? Well, a very serious charge, which shows a good deal of character in the young man, and for which he is certainly not to be despised. He says he knows how the youth are corrupted and who are their corruptors. I fancy that he must be a wise man, and seeing that I am the reverse of a wise man, he has found me out, and is going to accuse me of corrupting his young friends. And of this our mother the state is to be the judge. Of all our political men he is the only one who seems to me to begin in the right way, with the cultivation of virtue in youth; like a good husbandman, he makes the young shoots his first care, and clears away us who are the destroyers of them. This is only the first step; he will afterwards attend to the elder branches; and if he goes on as he has begun, he will be a very great public benefactor.

You might say sarcasm is not trolling, but is it not? He does this type of thing a lot in the dialogues, and it has nothing to do with the socratic method.

The socratic method, stricly speaking, I would not consider a trolling technique. However, many with dogmatic attitudes view constant questioning as very irksome, and might classify such behavior as trolling, though it is not.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

Why (4.09 / 11) (#30)
by dzimmerm on Fri May 18, 2001 at 04:39:01 PM EST

Socrates is dead.
Trolls are alive.

The difference is obvious.

I will applaud the Troll once they die, grin.

dzimmerm

trolls & ancient Greeks (3.25 / 4) (#31)
by jij on Fri May 18, 2001 at 05:05:13 PM EST

"So why is it that we hold Socrates in such high regard but despise trolls who do the exact same thing? Why is it that all philosophers learn the Socratic Method but when people use it they are looked down upon? "

If trolls were called "greeks" instead of "trolls" perhaps they would have a better reputation. Or maybe all trolls are not the same; the trolls that can't spell could be called "trolls" and the ones that can could be called "geek philosphers", or some such.

Or maybe we could judge each incidence of "trolling" individually according the resulting posts that it engenders.

Maybe I'll just shut up now.

"people who thinks quotes are witty are fucking morons" - turmeric

Didn't they? (3.00 / 1) (#32)
by khallow on Fri May 18, 2001 at 08:21:54 PM EST

Didn't the ancient trollers get beat in the Trolljan War? (nyuck nyuck nyuck)

Actually, I believe that you did have ancient trollers in the form of the Sophists who were mortal enemies of Socrates. In the practice of modern law, this philosophy is dominant. Before people draw the obvious conclusion that K5 trollers and lawyers have anything in common, I should point out that lawyers do have to meet an educational standard and pass the Bar or equivalent non-US exams. I don't feel like taking any more easy shots at this time-honored profession. :-)


Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

re:Didn't they? (3.00 / 1) (#37)
by jij on Sat May 19, 2001 at 09:03:40 AM EST

"Didn't the ancient trollers get beat in the Trolljan War? (nyuck nyuck nyuck)"

Yeah, but before that they used to hide in large wooden structures on wheels shaped like ugly mythological creatures, jumping out at passing peasants, frightening them severely. These structures were known as "Trojan Trolls", or maybe "Natalie Portman". I know this is true because I read it in "The History of Drivel" on page 627840, paragraph 77.

"Before people draw the obvious conclusion that K5 trollers and lawyers have anything in common, I should point out that lawyers do have to meet an educational standard and pass the Bar or equivalent non-US exams."

Hard to tell sometimes, though.


"people who thinks quotes are witty are fucking morons" - turmeric
[ Parent ]

Trolls want PREDICTABLE responses (3.20 / 5) (#41)
by MoxFulder on Sat May 19, 2001 at 09:19:41 PM EST

What is the difference between Trolls and Socrates? It's this:

Socrates strove "to rouse, persuade and rebuke" his students in order to elicit new, interesting, and creative responses.

Trolls "rouse, persuade and rebuke" newbies in order to elicit predictable, timeworn responses. The actual content of the responses is not important, only the act of responding to a troll and the ensuing embarassment.

So maybe we need to say that a post is not a troll if it elicits a lot of responses by newbies, even angry badly-thought-out ones, so long as the content of responses is in some way creative or original.


"If good things lasted forever, would we realize how special they are?"
--Calvin and Hobbes


Your thinking is wrong. (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by dram on Sun May 20, 2001 at 02:54:58 PM EST

So maybe we need to say that a post is not a troll if it elicits a lot of responses by newbies, even angry badly-thought-out ones, so long as the content of responses is in some way creative or original.

That is more or less saying that a Troll is not a Troll because of what the poster says or why they say it, a Troll is a Troll because of the responces it gets. With that thinking nobody can 'go trolling', people can only become trolls through others posts.

-dram
[grant.henninger.name]

[ Parent ]

<I>Could</I> your thinking be wrong? (none / 0) (#49)
by synaptik on Sun May 27, 2001 at 11:25:13 AM EST

So maybe we need to say that a post is not a troll if it elicits a lot of responses by newbies, even angry badly-thought-out ones, so long as the content of responses is in some way creative or original.

That is more or less saying that a Troll is not a Troll because of what the poster says or why they say it, a Troll is a Troll because of the responces it gets. With that thinking nobody can 'go trolling', people can only become trolls through others posts.
In the spirit of the socratic method, I must now ask you: What if the person you just responded to was talking about intent, and not actual results? Wouldn't you then have to say that the commenter was saying that a Troll is defined by the types of responses it tries to illicit?

--synaptik

[ Parent ]
er, s/illicit/elicit.<EOM> (none / 0) (#50)
by synaptik on Sun May 27, 2001 at 11:27:28 AM EST

er, s/illicit/elicit. <EOM>

[ Parent ]
A difference of intent (3.00 / 4) (#48)
by Daemin on Wed May 23, 2001 at 04:07:54 PM EST

They are not the same, and not even on the same level.

Frankly, i find comparing so called "trolls" to Socrates highly amusing, as well as somewhat repulsive.

Socratese was trying to enlighten people by showing them they didnt know as much as they thought they did. His primary goal was to teach.

Trolls try to cause "flame wars", i.e. much noises and insults with very little content. Trolls do not try to enligthen others. They attempt to goad them into arguments for the sake of argument. Their primary goal is to be annoying.

I think the distinciton is so blatantly obvious, that your post, in attempting to justify, on some level, trolls, is, in itself, a prime example of "trolling."

Socrates a troll? Perhaps so. (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by NovaHeat on Mon Jun 04, 2001 at 06:27:23 PM EST

Socrates, regardless of what Plato would have you think, was a pest. And not the good kind either.

In the society he lived in , the rich and the beautiful were only ones who garnered good jobs and respect (not too unlike our own, perhaps), and Socrates was neither.

He was not wealthy, and he was certainly not an attractive man by any means. The only thing he was endowed with was a keen intellect.

And how did he use it? To show, through questions, his own intellectual superiority over others. Did Socrates say anything? Not really. He got everyone else to do the talking for him. In other words, Socrates was using his brain to make himself feel intellectually, and perhaps morally, superior to everyone else, to make up for his own shortcomings and inability to gain any stature in Greek society.

This is, in my opinion, not particularly different from the average troll. They don't really have anything to say, so instead, they state the obvious or spout some nonsense, and feel powerful when their 2 line comment spouts 43 angry responses.

The prinicple is the same: recognising one's own shortcomings and using one's strong points to put one in a position of percieved power or superiority over everyone else.

My verdict? Socrates was a troll.

-----

Rose clouds of flies.

Trolling, the Socratic Method | 51 comments (38 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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