Skip to main content

The Death of Socrates

Today, I told my students that while Socrates was not the first philosopher, he is the one who really set what would come to be called Western Philosophy in motion. I don't know exactly how accurate that view is since there were a number of odd mystery cults circulated in the Mediterranean, Pythagoras and his crew for instance. Nevertheless, there is something about the drama of the trial and death of Socrates that seemed to energize the philosophical project, such as it was at the time.

Even if created in retrospect, the narrative of a person dying for asking questions sends a powerful signal that there is something important about what he was doing. Remember that it's not quite right to say that Socrates died for his ideas. The early dialogues offer little in the way of a positive project, and what is there is usually attributed to Plato working out the early stages of his project. In the end, Socrates is executed because asking questions is dangerous. It undermines the structure of authority, erodes certainty in traditional values, and disrupts social routines.

Nevertheless, it's also the ability to question that grounds our capacity for self-understanding and rational thought. The death of Socrates marks a cultural awakening to sentience mirrored in the roots of other great world traditions, named and unnamed. All of us inherit those traditions, whether we recognize the lineage or not.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 1: Utilitarianism

There is no way this tutorial series would be complete without some discussion of justifications for intellectual property. While not necessarily a matter of law, some knowledge of the philosophical foundations will provide a better sense of the values at stake in intellectual property debates. Notice, for instance, that the tutorials on fair use were punctuated with appeals to values, social goods, and individual rights. Without an understanding of the moral and political framework against which the law stands, one can very easily find oneself in a stalemate, with one value pitted against another and no way of deciding which should prevail. To understand the jurisprudence around intellectual property rights, one has to have some idea of the justifying theories to which attorneys and judges appeal in their arguments and decisions. So, without further ado, let's get to the tutorial.
There are three main ways of justifying intellectual property rights: the Utilitarian theory, the Lab…

Fair Use Part 2: Subtleties

Now that you've had the time to digest the basics of fair use, it's time to talk about some common misunderstandings and problems that arise with regard to this aspect of copyright law. As you might have noticed from last time, fair use a complex issue, one in which various concerns must be weighed with no guiding standard as to how much impact each factor should have. Even more problematically, US courts have stayed away from fair use cases for the most part. Very few actually reach a judge, and only four fair use cases have been heard by the Supreme Court. As such, there is very little jurisprudence to clarify the law. As such, fair use is a ripe subject for confusion and debate. Let's begin with the most crucial clarification.
Fair Use is not a right While one might hear talk about “fair use rights,” there really is no such thing. The National Information Infrastructure White Paper on Intellectual Property (released Sept 1995; for more information see: http://www.uspto.g…

History and Identity

Yesterday the European Court of Justice issued an important ruling that has the tech policy world buzzing about privacy, search engines and personal history. In short, the court ruled that the EU Data Protection Directive gives a person the right to demand that old information be purged from search results. The particular case involves an attorney seeking removal of links to announcements about a real-estate auction connected with a debt settlement in 1998. While the ECJ made a number of interesting moves in the case (including a welcome argument that the distinction between data processors and data controllers does not make as much sense today as it did in 1995 when the Directive went into effect), the big consequence everyone is talking is the right to be forgotten.

The long memory of the Internet is a feature it's hard not to love and fear at the same time. Whether you have something to hide or not, if it's on the Internet, it stays on the Internet (most of the time, at lea…