Socrates 1.3 – A Trend-Transcending Radical

"Socrates," by Mitch Francis

A Trend-Transcending Radical

Logic is the science of good reasoning, first studied systematically by Aristotle. The word derives from the Greek ‘logos‘ (‘λογική’), which means ‘reason’ or ‘principle’.

Not every account of philosophy gives such prominence to values and the dimension of personal meaning. It is true that some modern philosophers consider their work to be primarily technical and analytical, without any necessary connection to the personal. Some of these thinkers say the philosopher’s job is primarily the clarification of concepts; or the evaluation of views and the evidence for them; or the unconvering of hidden meanings, or untying of intellectual knots, whether by appeal to logic and analysis or to ordinary language.

esoteric‘ comes from Greek (‘esōterikos‘), which derives from the word for within. Esoteric knowledge is “insider knowledge,” possessed by few (e.g., magicians, high priestesses, and those who know the inner secrets of baseball) and perhaps hidden from the many.

Anglo-American analytic philosophy‘ here means philosophy as practiced in the native English-speaking world, including Britain, North America, and also Australia and New Zealand. During the twentieth century, philosophy in these lands was often more “Analytic” in its style, and promoted techniques of conceptual clarification and logical analysis as methods, while sometimes shunning speculation and conceptual vagueness.

There is certainly merit to these accounts, even if they are incomplete. At times, they have been the dominant flavors of Philosophy as an institution – whether practiced by the medieval monk utilizing Aristotelian metaphysics to make sense of esoteric theological doctrines, perhaps far from everyday concerns; or by the Anglo-American analytic philosopher devoted to clarifying and demystifying, to “showing” that certain “puzzles” slink away once we clarify our concepts — showing, for instance, that the mental fog around the concept of “freedom of the will” dissipates as soon as the concept of freedom is clarified through philosophical scrutiny.

transcend‘ has Latin roots: trans- (beyond) and scandere (to climb). Hence, its meaning — to surmount, move, or ascend beyond. As an athlete might “transcend pain,” we might “transcend our intellectual horizons.”

The Latin root from which ‘radical‘ comes (radicalis, itself rooted in the Latin for ‘radish’!), means “of roots, having roots,” thus supporting the connotation, “going to the original spirit or substance.”

Institutions — taken loosely: political parties, religions, or bands will do — are prone to become lopsided with time, as power shifts within them. Enduring ones often return to the spirits of their youth for renewal. This is good reason for starting with Socrates: His embodiment of philosophical spirit is often thought to be radical and trend-transcending.

By the end of the semester, you’ll form your own view about that.