I know that I know nothing! Socrates


I want to talk with you again about one of my greatest masters in mind and thought, Socrates. It is not only because of his being great in philosophy but also because I love him!

There’s also one other reason to write this article: It’s because of the reactions around a post which I shared on Facebook some days ago, and they were so different and some of them so unexpectedly, that I was surprised and almost shocked! You might know that on FB, there are different emojis to react to any post, including laughing. And laughing at this article was something improper for me. (Even some of my adorable friends did the same, though I believe that they hadn’t read the post!)

I know that philosophy is not everybody’s matter, and Socrates is not easy to understand. But when I share something special on FB, I look for the relevant group and expect the appropriate reactions.

I know that with humanity in general, it is difficult to say: I don’t know! Is it because of the Arrogance? Or the fear not to be mocked? Despite the fact that we can never know everything. And when a great philosopher, like Socrates says: I know that I know nothing, some people laugh, merely to hide their ignorance!

Honestly, I have rarely met one who says that magic word or has no problem with “not knowing”. Though, I think if first we accept that, we open the door towards knowledge. There will be a big chance for all of us, if we’d just imagine that the wisdom is limitless.

I know that I know nothing” is a saying derived from Plato‘s account of the Greek philosopher Socrates. It is also called the Socratic paradox. The phrase is not one that Socrates himself is ever recorded as saying.

This saying is also connected or conflated with the answer to a question Socrates (according to Xenophon) or Chaerephon (according to Plato) is said to have posed to the Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, in which the oracle stated something to the effect of “Socrates is the wisest.”

One of my reason to love Socrates, is his method of analysis in finding the truth. Plato shows in his books how fascinating and amusing were Socrates meeting and discussions. Here I add only a part of the analysis of one of his discussions, because Socrates used to spend a long time digging into the bottom to clear all indistinctness.

Concluding his conversation with Meno,  Socrates says, “If we were right in the way in which we spoke and investigated in this whole discussion, virtue would be neither an inborn quality nor taught, but comes to those who possess it as a gift from the gods which is not accompanied by understanding.” After Meno agrees with this, Socrates says, “It follows from this reasoning, Meno, that virtue appears to be present in those of us who may possess it as a gift from the gods.” Going on, he says that it would be easier to understand this if he and Meno first determined “what virtue in itself is.” However, Socrates now takes his leave, telling Meno to convince Anytus of what they’ve determined, “in order that he may be more amenable.” “If you succeed,” he adds, “you will also confer a benefit upon the Athenians.”

It’s often easy to forget that, despite his intense devotion to philosophy and logic, Socrates is quite pious. Of course, some readers interpret his words at this moment as facetious, but there is reason to believe that Socrates truly believes virtue is granted by the gods without “understanding.” After all, this acceptance of ignorance perfectly aligns with his belief that true wisdom means recognizing one’s own intellectual shortcomings. What’s more, he doesn’t let this lack of “understanding” deter him from going through the process of intellectual inquiry. In turn, he demonstrates his belief that engaging in the life of the mind is worthwhile even when it’s impossible to draw definitive conclusions. Meno by Plato via LitCharts

And here is the mentioned post on FB. (I think the pic here perplexed some in mistake to laugh!)

The Socratic Paradox, “I know that I know nothing”, is a saying derived from Plato’s account of the Greek philosopher Socrates. This dictum is not an apology for ignorance, but rather a way to model epistemic humility: Socrates’ dialectic method of teaching was based on that he as a teacher knew nothing, so he would derive knowledge from his students by dialogue. In many ways, this methodology is diametrically opposed to that favoured by the Guru archetype: the omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent parental figure who knows all the secrets to the universe and can enlighten us with a mere gaze, as long as we pledge our supreme devotion to their egoless persona. Our thirst for benevolent guidance and a general state of anomie and lack of meaning gets exploited and projected all over social media by unhinged wellness/yoga/pop-psychology influencers who aren’t usually interested in advancing a discourse that promotes dialectical critical thinking and nuanced sense-making; for the most part, they’re self-absorbed grifters who mistake their limited and subjective reality tunnels for Objective Reality and their misinformed and biased opinions for Wisdom and Truth. How many times do we need to hear a thirty-something glorified manchild rave about adolescent ideas of “body sovereignty” and medical libertarianism, elementary-school-level metaphysics they derived from a DMT trip or generic, regurgitated and misinformed conspiracy fantasy tinged with recycled pseudo-spiritual and anti-Semitic tropes before we realise that they are not really interested in knowledge, kindness or Truth: they are simply grifters weaponising their arrogance and charisma, preying on our loneliness and our thirst for meaning and connection to sell us one single product: themselves.Epistemic humility is a virtue much needed in times when Certainty runs rampant amongst the least qualified. Certainty is hardly an appropriate response to the intricacies of how the world works, let alone the deeper Mysteries. “All I know is that I know nothing” seems like the better mantra. From the FB page: Healing from Healing

There were some comments, but this one I’d liked most.

🌸BEGINNER’S MIND: There is a beautiful “state” which is aimed for in Zen called “beginner’s mind.” It’s like having the eyes of a child and perceiving fresh and anew – a state of emptiness so one can get renewed and refreshed/ refilled. We place such a value of “knowledge” that we often can’t see beyond our beliefs and conceptions.. Not to degrade knowledge, but there are wonderful moments of intuition where one sees freshly… Looking through another’s eyes… Seeing free of our preconceptions, expectations or “confirmation biases.” Zamin K. Danty

So, It is always good (better) to take time and look (read) and not only think, but as the Germans say: Nachdenken! (Ponder) then, make a decision. 🙏💖

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_that_I_know_nothing

23 thoughts on “I know that I know nothing! Socrates

  1. Guilty as charged and sadly, I didn’t read the entire post either. I should’ve done so, having believe this was a comedic cartoon you shared by the three funny responses depicted in bubbles by those listening to Socrates.

    One thing I am learning though as I age, is that by learning to sit with the questions instead of looking for answers because sometimes the answers don’t or won’t come. Why? Because we don’t really know and that’s okay. Love and light, Deborah.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. elainemansfield

    Dear Aladin, I don’t remember if I responded to your post on FB or not. I can imagine a laugh response being one of recognition–like an ah-ha moment of understanding what a fool I am and that I know nothing. I can imagine various motivations which aren’t insults to Socratic wisdom. My root teacher of philosophy and Jung was devoted to Socratic dialogue–and long slow discussions. I hope you’re resting well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You have expressed much desire for learning here.
    I know this statement of Socrates. I’ve always found it comforting, an equalization with all human intellect. Although depending on the person, it can be a driving force to keep learning and understanding, or ignite a defeatist attitude.

    I looked at your FB post pic.

    I think some people take things too much and too often at face value. It’s a lazy way. Someone sees the dialogue bubbles, therefore assumes a cartoon. It must be funny, whether it’s understood, or not.

    Thank you for your meaningful posts, and have a great rest!

    Liked by 1 person

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