The Ideal

Are we back to disputes over the Enlightenment project? The ideal goes further back, though, to Socrates: the unexamined life is not worth living, keep talking, seek arguments, be alert for falsehoods that you have accepted, be more willing to be refuted than to make your current ungrounded opinion prevail.

While there are many stories of our moral development, the cognitive quest remains much as Socrates defined it. Those who reject Plato's doctrines still tend, when they describe their intellectual life, to journey on Socrates's path. Other cognitive routes have been suggested from time to time, such as sceptical contentment, or paths leading to mysticism or to placing poetry above principles, but these stories have remained without wide influence. Socrates's story gives professional identity to groups; it has become the official self-portrait of philosophy and science. Could a university or a laboratory describe itself without the Socratic story of ever firmer grounds and ever more total vision? . . . . [But] the times are changing. David Hume preached contentment with ungrounded custom; Nietzsche taught everlasting conflicts of interpretation; Heidegger talked of an inquiry that listens without seeking any overall goal, partial illumination that is not part of a full vision to come. There are semiotic, pragmatic, deconstructive stories, and others from the East. We are not sure how to judge and evaluate these stories. Or rather we are not sure whether we should judge and evaluate them, since that is an activity performed on the Socratic way. The new stories have not yet changed our institutional or personal identity as inquirers, but they are present more actively than ever before. ("Socrates and the Story of Inquiry")