A Socratic Guide to Civil Discourse with Those Who Can’t Stand You
Plato’s Republic Book 1 presents the sophist Thrasymachus, famous for teaching that “might makes right.” In truth, his teaching is much more complex. The education he offers claims that outstanding individuals can liberate themselves from the tyranny of conventional notions of morality and then create meaning—for themselves and for others. Socrates’s engagement with him not only offers an alternate account of education, but it also shows us how to engage effectively with an interlocutor who is hostile, disrespectful, and self-righteous. Socrates not only cultivates civil discourse where previously there was none, but, in so doing, he may even have a salutary influence on Thrasymachus’s soul. While Socrates’s approach cannot be simply mimicked today, it provides an enduring paradigm to navigate current debates about education that are uncannily similar to those of 5th c. BC Athens.