Tuesday, September 12, 2006

An Ideal Of Discussion

“Socrates: I imagine, Gorgias, that you, too, have taken part in many discussions and have discovered in the course of them this peculiar situation arising: people do not find it easy by an exchange of views to arise at a mutually satisfactory definition for the subjects under discussion, and in this way bring the argument to an agreeable end. Rather, when they disagree on any point, and one declares the other to be guilty of incorrect or vague statements, they grow angry and imagine that everything that is said proceeds from ill will, not from any concern about the matters under discussion. Some of these arguments end most disgracefully, breaking up in mutual vituperation to such an extent that the bystanders are annoyed at themselves for having become auditors of such people. Now why do I say this? Because at the moment you seem to me to be making statements which do not follow from, and are not consistent with, what you first said about rhetoric. I hesitate, therefore, to embark on a refutation in the fear that you may imagine that I am speaking, not with a view to illuminating our subject, but to discredit you. Now if you are the sort of person I am, I shall gladly continue the questions and answers; if not I shall let them go. And what sort of person am I? One of those who are happy to be refuted if they make a false statement, happy also to refute anyone else who may do the same, yet not less happy to be refuted than to refute. For I think the former a greater benefit, in proportion it is of greater benefit to be oneself delivered from the greatest harm than to deliver another. No worse harm, it is true, can befall a man than to hold wrong opinions on the matters now under discussion between us. If, then, you declare yourself to be such a person as I am, let us continue the discussion; but if you think we ought to let it go, let us at once dismiss it and close the interview.” -- Plato, Gorgias (457-458)

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