published on October 20, 2015
Initiation, Extraction, and Transformation
What It Takes to Answer Socrates's Question
In this paper, I provide an account of what is frequently called Socrates’s “method,” and, more specifically, of what one is being asked by Socrates when he asks “what is x?” I argue that one is being asked to change one’s life, and to orient one’s life around the pursuit of wisdom. To answer Socrates’s question is to subject oneself to a process of extracting from oneself one’s accumulated prejudices; doing so requires one to abandon, not just ideas that have been demonstrated to be false, but the aspects of one’s life that have been built around those previous un-reflected upon ideas. This means that the cumulative commitments of adulthood—predicated as many of them often are on un-reflected upon presumptions—prevent initiation into philosophical life. The call to do philosophy is, for Socrates, the call to subject oneself to perpetual transformation, limiting who is capable of its pursuit.