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An interesting thought. I had never thought of Socrates as being humble. It has been a long time since I read Plato though so I may be getting him wrong. Whether Socrates was really humble almost a wise-fool and honestly asking others to please share their wisdom with him so he can understand, I think that is not what is commonly meant by the Socratic Method.

Rather than being a way to share the load of thinking, these days it seems to have come to mean a way of a teacher guiding the thought of a student by repeatedly asking questions and critiquing the answers.

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The assumption seems to have become that the student will not ever get a good answer, but the format will also save the teacher from ever having to answer the question and be exposed in his ignorance. So, a point for Socrates in puncturing the egos of self-important "experts". But a point against him in that his method can be used by those same "experts" to maintain their status as long as they are willing to say, "It's difficult. I learned this firsthand when a student in one of the first courses I taught complained in a course evaluation about the fact that I sometimes ask questions to which I expect a particular answer.

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Good point, and thank you anonymous student! I have tried to stop doing that.

I have found that if I ask only questions where I am genuinely curious about the answer, I get much better answers. There is a little or nothing said about Socratic irony. But I do like very much this read of Socrates. Wonderful piece, thanks! In my mind, the piece places Socrates as responsible for one of the building blocks of the scientific method; a community of researchers who attempt to refute competing theories to hone in on the correct one.

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A brilliant and insightful piece. Thanks a lot. Reminds me of of the point Yuval Hariri made in "Sapiens" about the Europeans conquering the world because they were the first ones to acknowledge their ignorance, and went exploring - physically and metaphorically - to try and answer questions that had never been asked before. Post a Comment. Socratic Humility.

July 03, Philosophy is, therefore, a form of humility: being aware that you lack what is of supreme importance. There may be no human being who exemplified this form of humility more perfectly than Socrates. It is no coincidence therefore, that he is considered the first philosopher within the Western canon.

The Virtue of Humility

Socrates did not write philosophy—he simply went around talking to people. But these conversations were so transformative that the second philosopher, Plato, devoted his life to writing dialogues that represent Socrates in conversation. Plato wanted the world to remember Socrates. Though they disagreed on just about every point of doctrine, they were clear that in order to count themselves as philosophers they had to somehow be working in the tradition of Socrates. What is it about Socrates that made him into a symbol for the whole institution of philosophy? Consider the fact that, when the oracle at Delphi proclaims Socrates wisest of men, he tries to prove it wrong:.

I then tried to show him that he thought himself wise, but that he was not.


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As a result he came to dislike me, and so did many of the bystanders. How are the claim and the activity related? Over and over again, Socrates approaches people who are remarkable for their lack of Socratic humility—which is to say, for the fact that they feel confident in their own knowledge of what is just, or pious, or brave, or moderate.

Spoiler: he's not. Socrates seemed to think that the people around him could help him acquire the knowledge he so desperately wanted—even though they were handicapped by the illusion that they already knew it. Indeed, I believe that their ill-grounded confidence was precisely what drew Socrates to them. If you think you know something, you will be ready to speak on the topic in question.

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You will hold forth, spout theories, make claims. Let me sketch a little dialogue you might have with Socrates. Socrates: What is courage? You: Courage is endurance. Socrates: Are people who foolishly endure great risks courageous? You: Yes. Socrates: Is courage a virtue, something good? Socrates: Would you want your children to foolishly subject themselves to danger…? You: No. Perhaps I should have said that foolish endurance is not courage. Socrates: If a man were to show endurance in spending his money wisely, knowing that by spending it he would get more, would you call this man courageous?

You would probably not. Instead of adding to his own honor, or that of his family, Ignatius was determined that his deeds would now redound to the glory of God. Ignatius did many noteworthy pious deeds, like giving his possessions away to the poor, and making his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which were heralded with all the more acclaim because of his privileged background. But he strove mightily to conceal them from others so that fame for holiness would not tempt him to vainglory.

Eventually, Ignatius went to Paris to study in preparation for becoming a priest. While in Paris, he gathered about him a group of companions. He spoke with them about spiritual things and gave them his Spiritual Exercises.


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Ignatius developed the Exercises by reflecting on the movements of his soul when he was convalescing from his leg injury. Some of the best students at the University of Paris underwent profound conversions while making the Exercises , including Peter Favre and Francis Xavier. Ignatius and his companions resolved that, when they completed their studies, they would try to go to Jerusalem to work for the conversion of the Muslims. That failing, they would put themselves at the disposal of the pope for whatever purpose he saw fit.

After a year of trying, their plans to travel to Jerusalem were finally frustrated, so they went to the Eternal City. Fortunately, his companions prevailed upon him to lead them further. They sent priests wherever the Church needed them: to win back parts of Christendom that had become Protestant, to preach the Gospel in the New World, and to evangelize even further beyond the reach of European empires in Asia.

Wherever they went, the Jesuits preached they Gospel with magnanimity and humility. They glorified God by founding excellent schools, building beautiful churches, and above all, winning souls for God. Precisely because Ignatius and the Jesuits did great deeds, they aroused opposition outside the Church and within her too. It may baffle us that Ignatius and many of his contemporaries who are now canonized saints were investigated by the Inquisition or ran up against ecclesiastical opposition to their efforts at renewal and reform.

But given that this was the age of the Protestant revolution, abounding with eccentric heresies, ecclesiastical wariness of new spiritual teachings and practices was not necessarily misplaced. Whenever Ignatius ran into trouble with ecclesiastical authorities, in Salamanca, Paris, or Rome itself, he always dealt with them patiently and reverently.

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His obedience was a mark of his holiness as it is a mark of the holiness of all the saints. But it is also a mark of the humility that tempers magnanimity, compelling it to respect the gifts God gives to others, including the gift of authority. That might have been what motivated him to read some of the Imitation of Christ each day. But his persistence and success in reordering his desire for vainglory to magnanimity and humility is summed up in St.

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