Philosophical Musings

February 26, 2006

Plato on Blogging

Filed under: Blogging — Elad Kehat @ 9:12 pm

Reading Plato’s Phaedrus, I found that he has some interesting things to tell us about blogging.

Socrates tells us of the words of Ammon, king of Egypt, to the god Theuth, who offered to teach letters to the Egyptians:

“..this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

It is as if these words were written to describe our own world, where writings abound, but understanding is as rare as ever. But could it be that the great philosopher holds such animosity towards the written word? After all, it is in writing that his words have come to us.

Let us continue reading a little further then :

“I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.”

This reminds me of literature classes in high school, where we’d learn a poem and give different interpretations. It always bothered me then that the teacher claimed we are free to interpret it as we see fit, regardless of what the poet really meant. But I guess that are is meant to be interpreted, what about writings of philosophy, science, or any expression of opinion? Are they meant for us by their authors to interpret as we see fit? Surely not!

Think of all the books and articles you read, interpreting them according to your own views, never knowing if you fully grasped the author’s meaning. Worse still, how about when you firmly object what you just read – would there be anything more satisfying than to engage the author in dialogue, assail his erroneous views and have him vehemently defend them? Is there anything more frustrating than not being able to do so?

Well, that’s where the web comes in. Talk back, comment, engage, participate. Let the author know your thoughts, let all readers read them, not before you read theirs. Take part in a global conversation that is a celebration of human spirit.

How could we even read those old news papers, unable to reply in real-time? How could we write, without being fed-back, knowing that we’re truly heard?

But what if our reader are few, or none at all, should we still write? Of course!

Socrates has a few more wise words for us:

“ the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent.”


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