Outline and assess Plato’s defence of philosophy understood as critical thinking

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Critical thinking has been described as 1 ‘the capacity people have to question beliefs and presuppositions…with a view to giving reasons for them’. Critical thinking is a procedure for understanding and then evaluating the support for a certain view. It involves rational decision in whether to believe or disbelieve the point, and it also involves accepting or rejecting certain evidence. Your own point of view must be made when you have considered all the points of view and thought about the plus points and negative points of the argument. Bruce Young also says:

“To question facts “radically” is not to deny or doubt them but to inquire into their significance”.

Philosophy can be seen as a second-order activity, as it deals with theories, concepts and beliefs, whereas first-order studies only deal with facts. Open discussion is mainly used as this allows everyone to voice his or her own opinions. The Critical Thinking skill can then be brought into use, as you can decide what you agree with and what not. It helps interaction with other people in the real world.

Socrates agrees with Plato in the fact that Philosophy is a completely different way of thinking and can be set apart from subjects such as science or religion. He sees it as not just another way of theorizing about life, but a completely new outlook on life, and even a different way of living it. He is saying that Philosophy will engage the mind in thinking about points made and not just accepting things at face value. According the Apology, there are no set conclusions or answers in Philosophy. This means that you must be open minded and your own opinion and own conclusion are vital. What you draw from an argument is the most important thing.

Socrates said that the biggest mistake made by people was categorizing Philosophy with ‘cosmogony’ and ‘sophism’. He said:

“There is a widespread misconception…that philosophy is the same as ‘cosmogony’ and ‘sophism”. He adds that this is a mistake’.

Cosmogonists are intellectuals who claim to have expert knowledge in natural science, and sophists are concerned with social sciences and humanities. He claims that knowledge acquired through Philosophy is limited and he calls it “human wisdom”. He is playing down his knowledge, but also implying that it is important in the real world, as he calls it “human” wisdom. He does not mean that Philosophy provides no knowledge and therefore is useless, he is merely saying that it is not like science or other subjects, which teach you facts and claim to have expert knowledge. He describes the knowledge acquired as not only “human” but also “limited”, meaning there is only so much you can learn and know.

In the apology, Socrates attacks those who claim to have supreme knowledge. He states that “definitive and ultimate knowledge…is reserved to the gods alone”. He then says people who know this are the wiser human beings as they can accept this and they know their own limits to their knowledge. Socrates also claims that knowledge can be acquired but only if the individual is willing to learn. Bruce Young analysed this by saying:

“Granted, no-one will acquire knowledge in any field unless she wants to acquire it”.

Socrates tried to show Philosophy and its meaning as a series of questions: what is justice? what is a good society? what is to be moral or to live a good life? On the question of morality, using Critical thinking, a question that can be asked is what is morality in the first place, and is this learnt?

Socrates makes the point that not everyone is willing to learn Philosophy, even though everyone has the ability to be able to learn it. When a philosophical conversation is engaged, all the participants become philosophers but some are unwilling to practice it.

Socrates talks about the benefits Philosophy gives people and one of his main points is that it can give people a new outlook on life, and can change the way someone lives their life. He also stresses the importance of 5 ‘the knowledge or wisdom that can be secured via philosophy’. He says that it is of ‘decisive importance for human beings’. He is linking this to the point he makes about Philosophy giving people vital people skills and allows you to have an inquisitive outlook on life and not just accept things for how they are.

He feels it is important to not overvalue your own knowledge or to lie about how much knowledge you have. He has two categories – those whose knowledge is real, and those whose knowledge is false. He uses the example of expert craftsmen who are good at their job. He says that their knowledge is genuine, but people like politicians who use their position to gain power cannot claim to have expert knowledge as they do not use it correctly.

Linking in with asking questions such as morality and justice, Socrates argues the case of Critical Thinking by claiming that investigating things such as these areas can help us gain genuine knowledge, therefore it is a useful topic area to study and should be taken seriously. He argues also that Philosophy is available to all and that people such as politicians use critical thinking.

Socrates feels people should not be prepared to take things just at face value and should question them, but he says that many people are unwilling to do this out of fear of losing their credibility or ruining their reputation. When sentenced to death, he says:

6 “You are having me killed in the belief that this will free you from that questioning of how you live…”.

Here he is saying that people need to question life, and that it is wrong not to do so.

Socrates felt that Philosophy and Critical thinking were extremely important and he believed that people should accept them as they are extremely useful in day-to-day life. He was prepared to die to stand up for what he believed in and a statement he made summed up his outlook on life:

“…the unquestioned life is not worth living”.

I have always thought the debate of how the world started to be very interesting. One side claim that God created the Earth and everything on it, whilst the other side argue that an explosion known as the ‘Big Bang’ created it. I have looked at both sides of the argument and have needed to use critical thinking to determine which side of the argument I agree with. A lot of Christians refer to the bible and the story of how the world was built in seven days, and I must admit that although I dismissed it at first, other such stories such as Noah’s Ark, where an actual boat was found in a mountainous area years later, made me think whether there was some truth in God. I questioned whether I was being ignorant in dismissing it because there being a god defies nature. However, I am more inclined to believe the ‘Big Bang’ story as after weighing up the arguments, it seems the more sensible and logical explanation as to how the world started. The story appears to have more substance to it.

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