Even possibly the greatest thinker in history, Socrates, never thought he was right. And neither did he care about convincing others he was, or about winning the argument. His was a life of constant questioning, curiosity and examination. Whether it was right or wrong, ‘Whatevs’, as Socrates probably never said.
In Christopher Rowe’s translation of Plato’s Phaedo in The Last Days of Socrates, speaking about Socrates’ discourse prior to his death, Echecrates asks Phaedo what Socrates was like at the time. Was he indignant trying to get his point across? Did he lose his cool and get frustrated or even angry? Phaedo tells him:
I’d often had cause to wonder at Socrates before, but never more than for what I observed in him on this occasion… what I wondered at particularly about him was first of all the pleasant, kindly and respectful way he received what these young men had to say (his conversation mates, Cebes and Simmias); secondly how sharply he observed the effect on us of the exchanges; and finally how effectively he soothed us, rallying us as if we were a defeated army in retreat and urging us to keep up and continue examining his case with him (that of his philosophy about death and its significance, or lack thereof).¹’
In The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday says, Socrates was ‘much more interested in hearing what the other person had to say than making sure he was heard or winning the argument’². In Phaedo, Plato’s Socrates goes on to say:
At the present moment… it’s not my concern, except incidentally, whether what I’m saying should seem true to my audience, but rather that is should as much as possible seem true to me.
This attitude recurs as a common theme for those living a philosophical life in pursuit of virtue and tranquility.
¹ Christopher Rowe (ed.), Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, (London, 2010).
² Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic, (London, 2016)