Plato and Reaction, was Re: Mr. Byfield's C- Posts

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Wed Jan 5 09:25:23 PST 2000

Doug Henwood wrote:

> Charles Brown wrote:
> >Interrogation, which is a postmod method, I believe.
> Damn, those postmodernists are guilty of so many crimes,

If my post the other day on 20th century stagnation of underlying thought beneath a surface of radical change is correct, then this is definitely not a postmodern method -- it is the method invented by the archetypal reactionary Plato for his attack on the Athenian Democracy. The pretence of wishing to be informed, of only having questions and no answers, is the core of the Platonic (or Socratic) method. It's secret is that the "way things are" assert themselves without defense, while the opposition to "the way things are" is always imperfect (and never taken for granted). Hence to ask a question to which one does not oneself give an answer (before expecting an answer) is fundamentally reactionary.

As a grad school professor of mine commented (in disapproval of "Socratic teaching"), the Socratic method is a game only one can play. I would even be willing to dabble a bit in psychology in commenting on professors who use it: they are emotional sadists.

Actually, most (not all) of the time, the claim that one is only seeking enlightment is consciously unprincipled. The questioner already knows, not only what the correct answer is but, more seriously, what *kind* of answer (correct or incorrect) he/she will accept as an answer. In the case of metaphysical idealists, the only *kind* of answer they will accept is one that takes metaphysical idealism as its premise and is therefore self-contradicting. Plato carefully gives that kind of answer to Thrasymachus in the *Republic*. It is really delightful when you can write an opponent's answer for him/her -- and even if you can't literally do so, you can do so in effect by simply claiming that the question the opponent answered is not the question you asked. Socrates it seems was the first stalker.

As a teacher I adopted the practice of forcing students to give an answer of *some* kind to every question they asked. I got the idea almost 60 years ago from a bit of filler in the *Readers Digest*. A small boy asks his mother, "Where did I come from?" She gives a half hour answer in sex education, and asks, "Does that answer your question?" The boy responds, "That's interesting, but Sally comes from St. Louis and Bill comes from Cleveland? Where do *I* come from?"

This fundamental ambiguity of questions without *some kind* of answer is one of the major reasons that students, by the time they reach the fifth grade, or earlier, have given up asking questions in class.


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