Chapter 2

Please note that this is an excerpt from our book titled Introduction to the Philosophy of the Human Person.

CHAPTER 2

METHODS OF PHILOSOPHIZING

Gerry Arambala
Rhiza Mae Damasin-Arambala

Content Standards

The learner demonstrates various ways of doing philosophy.

Performance Standards

The learner evaluates opinions.

Learning Competencies

Having incorporated the significant insights from the previous chapter, the students are already equipped with the capacity to distinguish opinion from truth and the readiness to analyze situations that show the differences between them. At this point, they will realize that the method of philosophy leads to wisdom and truth, thereby capacitating them to evaluate knowledge from mere opinions.

 

Introduction

The history of philosophy is marked by the struggle for the search of the right method. There are as many methods as there are philosophers who want to provide an exhaustive account of the matter they hold in question, although only few among them agree with each other’s presuppositions. From the ancient period down to the present, philosophers have engaged into an open ended-debate arguing about the possibility of a unified philosophical method. To get a grasp of their discussion, this chapter presents the commonly held significant philosophical methods with their main proponents and fundamental claims. More specifically, this chapter explicates four main methods of philosophy, namely, the Socratic, phenomenological, hermeneutical, and the analytic one. In broad outline, the Socratic method is characterized with a method of questioning that forms as a guide to students in conducting the proper procedure to knowing the truth. Meanwhile, the phenomenological method is identified with the attempt of recovering the primordial meaningfulness in the human experience by means of suspending our commonly held prejudices about an aspect of our experiences. Further, the hermeneutic method offers an artistic way of engaging philosophical interpretations through a clarification of how the meaning of one’s being as a human person is revealed. Last is the analytic method, which is concerned with the determination of language as expressing “the state of affairs” in the world. Here, language is “the picture of reality.”

 

The Socratic Method

Even without writing his own treatises in philosophy, the philosopher Socrates remains to be one of the most influential and enigmatic thinkers in the history of philosophy in general. Despite our limited and often disputed knowledge of him  through the secondary sources from Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato, Socrates’s inscrutable character and the subtlety of his teaching has “changed how philosophy itself was to be conceived” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). His death in the “hands of the Athenian Democracy” has paved the way for the realization of a revolutionary method of thinking that seeks to liberate the mind from the constraints of dogmatism (Ibid.) Socrates engaged in a “didactic dialogue” of questioning that is expressed in the critical examination and cross-examination of the positions of every participant to the conversation. This didactic dialogue intends not to convey new truth but only as guide to arriving at the truth (Nelson, 1965, pp. 269-316). The method is later known as “the Socratic method of questioning.”

In the Socratic method, the instructor ceases to be the absolute fount of truth for he becomes simply part of the entire didactic dialogue of free individuals thinking for their own. In this manner the classroom becomes the arena of freedom to think, where each one thinks for what she thinks to be correct until a “universal truth” is derived from the particular claims laid down in the dialogue. In this kind of engagement, the students are made responsible for their own thinking in the dialogue. Here, they are no longer passive recipients of knowledge for in this method they are the active interlocutors with the task of attaining truth.

 

Intellectual Midwifer

Socrates’ didactic dialogue is characterized with its non-insistence of presupposing new truths. What Socrates does is help facilitate the delivery of truth straight from the innate conceptions of the individual he is discussing with. This he pertinently calls an “intellectual midwifery.” This helps in making clear all our assertions of our assumed knowledge of things.  The dialectic of questionings – by way of this kind of midwifery – intends ultimately to guide the students to further qualify their presuppositions in order for them to arrive at a truth that is clear and free from all doubts. This is realized by allowing the students to qualify their truth-claims as they engage in the didactic dialogue, that is to lead them to think deeper and assert what they hold to be true.  This manifests when Socrates in the Apology engages himself in various dialogues with the learned men of Athens hoping to lead them to admit of their ignorance. But the opposite happened, for instead of freeing themselves from their ignorance of knowing nothing, these learned Athenians accused Socrates instead of the crimes which the latter never committed.

Socrates’ teaching ultimately begins with the acknowledgment of one’s ignorance over many things. This is magnified with the persistent claim of his ignorance, that he is sure that he knows nothing. That even with the proclamation of the oracle, him being the wisest, Socrates took it rather as a quest for verifying its truthfulness.  He neither admitted nor proclaimed himself to be the wisest for he knew in himself that his knowledge of things is but limited and imperfect. His method of teaching is unconventional for it was not marked with a precise system. Accordingly,

Socrates constructed no system. Time and again he admitted his not-knowing. He met every assertion with an invitation to seek the ground of its truth. As the Apology shows, he questioned and examined and cross-examined … his fellow citizens, not to convey a new truth to them in a manner of an instructor but only to point out the path along which it might be found (Nelson, 1965, pp. 269-316).

Socrates denied being a teacher to anyone, for he sees himself not as someone who instructs the people about the truth but rather as someone who is also in the business of finding it. He begins the task of searching for the truth by examining his own self, in recollecting about what the Oracle told about him being a wise man. Socrates thus says:

So I asked myself, on behalf of the oracle, whether I should prefer to be as I am, with neither wisdom nor their ignorance, or to have both. The answer I gave to myself and the oracle was that it was to my advantage to be as I am (Plato, 22e).

What Socrates is trying to say is that knowing oneself is the first step to knowing the truth. This self knowledge should lead one to dispel all forms of dogmatism, of assuming to be knowledgeable when in fact one knows nothing (Plato, 2000, p. 23d). Moreover, the necessity of knowing oneself is insisted by Socrates for the reason that “the unexamined life is not worth living for man” (Plato, 2000, p. 37e).  For Socrates knowledge begins the moment one admits her ignorance, that is, of realizing that “[her] wisdom is worthless” (Plato, 2000, p. 23b). It is under such presupposition that one will truly seek to acquire true wisdom. Such is made possible by inquiring into the nature of truth. Socrates realized this with his incessant questioning that is intended not to posit new truths but simply to ask whether the wisdom of the people is truly the wisdom of the philosopher. That is, whether the wisdom they profess to possess is truly just. For Socrates true wisdom is attained with one’s humble recognition of one’s limitations and one’s love for justice. A philosopher for Socrates is someone who loves wisdom. She is the one who “discusses virtue everyday” (Plato, 2000, p. 37e) and who constantly embraces the thought of her being ignorant.

 

Learned Ignorance

In the Apology Socrates is depicted to be defending himself against the accusations of Meletus and Anytus in front of the Athenian crowd. Here Socrates discusses how he is not guilty of the accusations thrown at him. Socrates, being an exceptional teacher, was accused of corrupting the youth, treason and, and atheism. Of course, none of these charges was true in so far as Socrates’ conduct to the public were seen by his students. Anyway, he begins his defense by distinguishing himself from those persons who freely refer themselves as accomplished speakers, the so-called Sophists, despite that they know nothing about the craft and says nothing about the truth. For Socrates, the real accomplished speaker is “the man who speaks the truth” (Plato, 2000, p. 17b). Furthermore, Socrates pointed out that his wisdom is not the conventional wisdom of those individuals who are considered learned, because for his wisdom is human (Plato, 2000, p. 18e) and is derived from an incessant self-reflection that led him to realize his ignorance over things. Socrates explicates thus:

I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not know, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I now, so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know (Plato, 2000, p. 21d).

The above text already encloses Socrates’ teaching, in insisting the necessity of admitting one’s ignorance rather than insisting an assumed knowledge. To claim that one knows even though such knowledge may not necessarily be the truth is shameful and unjust. What one must do is simply admit that one knows nothing so that he can open herself for wisdom. True philosophical wisdom is attained by freely engaging oneself into the rigor of philosophizing, to stay in the problem, to ask questions until truth is attained and the problems are solved. Socrates in wanting to understand what the oracle of the god of Delphi set forth by questioning people who were referred to as wisest, for he knows in himself that he is not wise (Plato, 2000, p. 21b). But as Socrates recounted, all those men in politics, art, and literature, who were considered to be wisest and masters of their crafts, were found empty of anything about truth. That is, “they have been proved to lay claim to knowledge when they know nothing “(Plato, 2000, p. 23d). What is being expressed above is what is sometimes referred to as the “paradox of the learned ignorance”. It is paradoxical for it presupposes the necessity of realizing one’s ignorance in order for one to attain absolute knowledge. Socrates was aware of this paradox with his insistence of having to know nothing despite of the gods calling him the wisest. For him, wisdom primarily springs from realizing that “this man among you, mortals, is wisest who…understands that his wisdom is worthless” (Plato, 2000, p. 23b).

Furthermore, what is prevalent in the entire discussion above is a kind of method that is introduced by Socrates in his didactic dialogue. Here, the “intellectual midwifery” is at work, a method that entails not to insist on inculcating knowledge to students but rather simply guides them to arrive at certain truths. In this method the students are no longer passive recipients of knowledge. They are the ones who will think for themselves what truths they think are relevant to their lives. The Socratic instructor only facilitates the dialogue while motivating the students to keep on thinking.

Below is the front cover of our book in philosophy of the human person, a core subject in senior high schools in the Philippines. Chapter 1 in this book addresses the question: What is Philosophy? If you are interested to purchase the book, you may contact the publisher at subversopublishing@gmail.com. For more on the basic information of this book, please visit this link: http://philonotes.com/index.php/2017/11/24/textbook-iphp-k-12/