Start reading about the Athenian philosopher Socrates (c. 470–399 BC), and you will probably be filled with all sorts of questions. He provokes a reaction: critical, comical, challenging, infuriating, Socrates forged a public image, kindled a public reaction, brought philosophical technique before the public eye. It was not so much his ideas that provoked, but rather his brand new way of questioning, challenging, refuting. Even today when reading Socrates’ refutations, we feel a sort of Schadenfreude – a delight in seeing commonplace beliefs, held by some rather important people, challenged so openly. And we have questions. You may find yourself asking different questions from others: that is part of the magic of engaging with the Classical world, each of us in our own way. Take Socrates’ famous claim that “the unexamined life is not worth living”ὁ… ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ, Apology 38a5. : if Socrates said this to you, what would you ask him, if you had the chance?
Frisbee Sheffield, in a fascinating article here on Antigone, asks a great question: “How did Socrates think that examination, of the kind he practised, could make us better?” It’s as if she asks Socrates, “Why should we examine as you did?” I would love to know this too, but would ask Socrates a different question: “How can we learn to examine as you did?” Answering this question – learning to see a conversation through Socrates’ eyes, and to challenge conversational partners using his techniques – could help us have more deeply-engaged discussions on the most vital issues of the present.