Wednesday, April 2, 2014

the 'other' side of the story

Somewhere between 10 and 11 p.m. on a chilly evening in college, I was winding down from the efforts expended on behalf of a philosophy homework project when everything collapsed.

Like a lot of freshman philosophy classes here in America, my class was studying Plato's "Republic." The assignment divided the class in two, with each half directed to take the opposite side of a debating topic. It was part of the "Socratic method," I guess.

I don't remember the topic itself (maybe "war is necessary" or "segregation had its good points" or who knows what), but I had worked pretty hard to shore up my arguments. I had taken notes, listed talking points ... and was pretty well satisfied that I had done my homework and was prepared. It was getting late ... time to get some sleep.

And then, out of the blue, it occurred to me that there was no way in hell I could defeat my opponents without diving headlong into their point of view. There was no other way I could hope to emerge victorious. Anything short of such an understanding would be thin gruel ... righteous bias masquerading as reasoned argument. I might win without such an understanding, but it would be a win built on half-baked foundations. Others might be satisfied to get a good grade, but for some reason that was not enough for me.

And so I went back to studying -- chucked out previous arguments and began anew. I got to bed around 3.

Did I arrive in class the next day with anything resembling "the truth" under my belt? Of course not. What I came to class with was an understanding that might be pooh-poohed by others as righteous bias, but satisfied me. Some of it was logic, the much appreciated aspect of philosophy, but in the end it was not the logic that was in play: It was the fact that I had made a sincere effort that I could credit ... and then let the chips fall where they might. Corrections were imaginable, but I had done an honest job and was honestly satisfied with my conclusions.

Strange to think I had to wait so long for that dime to drop... the other side of the argument and the other and the other and the other. To this day, I don't know if that was part of the professor's plan when handing out the homework assignment.

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