S A T A N S - O F - C O E R C I O N
"What we must beware of,"
he said, "is becoming 'misologists', hating arguments in the way 'misanthropists'
hate their fellow men; because," he declared, "there's nothing worse
that can happen to anyone than coming to hate arguments. Actually, misology
and misanthropy come about in the same way. Misanthropy creeps in as a result
of placing too much trust in someone without having the knowledge required:
we suppose the person to be completely genuine, sound, and trustworthy, only
to find a bit later that he's bad and untrustworthy, and then it happens again
with someone else; when we've experienced the same thing many times over,
and especially when it's with those we'd have supposed our nearest and dearest,
we get fed up with making so many mistakes and so end up hating everyone and
supposing no one to be sound in any respect. Haven't you seen this happening?"
"Yes, certainly," I said.
"Not a pretty thing, then," said Socrates; "and clearly someone like that will have been trying to handle human relationships without the knowledge he needs, of what humans are like; for I imagine that if he'd been doing it on the basis of a proper understanding, he would have supposed things to be as they really are, with the very good and the very bad forming a small minority, and the majority in the middle between good and bad."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"It's the same as with very small and very large objects," he said; "can you think of anything rarer than to find an extremely large or extremely small man, or dog, or anything else? Or try it with quick, slow, ugly, beautiful, pale, dark: haven't you noticed that examples at the extreme points in all such cases are rare and in the minority, while examples in between are plentiful and in the majority?"
"Yes, certainly," I said.
"Then it's your view," said Socrates, "that if a competition for badness were proposed those out in front would be quite few in number?"
"That's likely," I replied.
"Yes indeed," said Socrates, "though in fact arguments aren't like human beings in that respect; I was merely following your lead just now. The similarity is just that when someone trusts in the truth of an argument without having the necessary expertise, in arguments, and a bit later on it looks false to him (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't); then the same thing happens with another, and another – well, as you'll know, especially if it's a question of someone who's spent all his time on constructing opposing arguments, he'll end up thinking he's become very wise, because unlike anyone else, he's understood that there is nothing whatever that's sound, or stable, in things, and nothing that's sound or stable in arguments either. Everything there is in the world is simply moving this way and that, up and down like currents in the Euripus, and doesn't stop still anywhere for any period of time."
"You're absolutely right," I said.
"Well, then, Phaedo," said Socrates, "wouldn't it be a quite pitiably thing if there really were some true and stable argument that one could get hold of, and yet because a person mixed with the sorts of arguments that now seem true, now false, he failed to blame himself, and his own lack of experience, and instead eased his distress by happily shifting the blame from himself to arguments, thus living out the rest of his life not only hating and abusing arguments but deprived of the truth of things and of knowledge about them?"
"Zeus! It would indeed be a pitiable thing," I said.
"Then our first priority," Socrates said, "must be to beware of allowing the thought to creep into our soul that there's probably nothing sound in any argument; we must much rather suppose that it's ourselves that are not yet in a sound condition, and that we must soldier on, eager to be sound – you, Phaedo, and the others here, for the sake of the rest of your lives as well as for the present moment, and I for the sake of my impending death itself, insofar as I'm presently in danger of wanting to win the argument, like people of no education, instead of showing a properly philosophical attitude toward it. Whenever they're disputing on some subject or other, the concern of these individuals is only that the theses they themselves have proposed should seem good to their audience; they don't care how the things they're talking about actually are. I think the only difference, at the present moment, between me and them is that it's not my concern, except incidentally, whether what I'm saying should seem true to my audience, but rather that it should as much as possible seem so to me. My reasoning is this, my dear friend (see how determined I am to get the advantage!): if what I'm saying is actually true, then it's a fine thing to be convinced about, and if there's nothing, after all, for the person who's died, then at any rate for just this short time before my own death I'll spare my audience the unpleasantness of hearing me moan about it, and this silliness of mine won't persist with me, which would be a bad thing, but will shortly perish with me. So much, then, Simmias and Cebes," said Socrates, "for my preparations for advancing against your argument; as for you, if you'll take my advice, you'll pay little attention to Socrates and much more to the truth: if I do seem to be saying anything that's true, agree with me, but if not resist me with all the arguments at your disposal. Take care that in my enthusiasm I don't deceive both myself and you, and that I don't go off like a bee leaving my sting behind."
© 2017 BRUCE STIRLING JOHN KNOX