FAQ'S

1. Yes. In fact, it is mostly a translation of a recently discovered Platonic Dialogue called Mediocrates. The text was inexplicably found on the hard drive of philosophy undergraduate's computer.

Well, as you might have guessed, I'm lying. This argument is nothing like any of the Socratic Dialogues in any way except its frustrating nature. While Socrates was never satisfied with an answer, it was always because the answers were ill thought-out and defective, not because he was just being difficult. However, facing the withering dialectic of Socrates, especially about a matter you consider yourself to be an expert on, could seem as infuriating as this. Socrates harps on what may seem like minor details, but he is never content to rest until the answer to these most important questions are settled completely.

Oops, I lied again. There is one other similarity between this argument and the Dialogues. As a literary device, Plato had some of the interlocutors agree with Socrates's assertions during long passages in which Socrates is on a roll. Pages can go by where the only responses to Socrates are "Yes, Socrates," "How could it be otherwise, Socrates," "By the dog, Socrates, it is true" (whatever that means) and "Only a fool could doubt it, Socrates." You will often have the chance to suck up to Socrates in this fashion, although doing so in our little game could expose you to the scorn of some of history's great philosophers.

We stole most of our ideas from the Monty Python skit referred to above, in which the argument proceeds mostly because the interlocutor, Mr. Vibrating, will disagree with whatever answer the victim gives, no matter how trivial or obviously true it is.

For some exposure to the real Socratic dialogues, go to The Internet Classics Archive.

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2. In 399 B.C., Socrates was found guilty of corrupting the youth, making the weaker argument appear the stronger, investigating matters in the heavens and below the earth and believing in deities of his own invention rather than in those approved of by the state. He was convicted and sentenced to die by hemlock. Whether he corrupted the youth, he certainly took his self-assigned role as the "gadfly" of Athens seriously. As anyone who has read Plato's dialogues will tell you, Socrates was so annoying in his persistent questioning that anyone would sympathize with an interlocutor who throttled him after a frustrating bout of dialectical discussion. Part of the problem was Socrates's claim of ignorance--Socrates never answered questions (at least in the early dialogues), he just asked them of his victim and showed the victim's answers to be sadly wanting.

Interestingly, Socrates goaded the court at his trial. When offered the option of leaving Athens as punishment, he replied that if set free, he would continue to behave as before. When offered a chance to pay a fine, he offered a sum laughably out-of-whack with reality. When offered the chance to propose his own penalty after he was found guilty (as was the Athenian custom), Socrates suggested that he be treated like a hero of the state--well-kept by public funds for the rest of his life.

In the final moments of his life, he urged those around him to think that death was not a great evil, but rather the beginning of an existence where knowledge is possible, with the soul finally freed of bodily constraints. He commented that to live a long time was to be a long time sick and required his friends to offer the sacrifice of a cock to Asclepius, the God of Healing.

While I harbor a deep and abiding respect for the Socrates described in the early Platonic Dialogues, I would be kidding if I said I wondered why they killed him. I wish I could reach back into time through the pages of my books sometimes and beat the Athenians to the punch.

Friedrich Nietzsche, in the Twilight of the Idols had the following to say on the subject:

3.Well, if all you're concerned about is winning, then the answer is yes. Besides killing Socrates, the ultimate form of victory in your petty little world view, there is another way to defeat the master. But really, is that all there is to life? Isn't finding out the truth better than beating someone (especially an old man) in an argument? Maybe you can make him cry, too...Socrates doesn't want to win, he is concerned with living the good life, and on his view, finding out what this entails is an activity that takes nearly constant inquiry. So grow up!

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4. You shouldn't. Go back to the important surfing you were doing. Where were you going today? The live picture of Bentham's embalmed corpse? Pictures of Supermodels? All the hits on a search for your name? By all means, go back to your important work.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, you need to see just how clever we are. And the only way to do that is by playing the game.

If you mean "Why should I bother to think hard about the important issues in life as Socrates did?" then all I have to say is, to paraphrase Socrates, your miserable life has only one chance of being worth living, and that is if you expose yourself to some philosophical self scrutiny and try to evaluate the reasons you have for believing the things you do. So there.

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