“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
The man on the other side of the counter looked familiar. While packing his 4 bottles of açai juice I asked him: “Did you by any chance teach philosophy?”. “Yes, and I still do!”, he said with a smile.
So it was him. The guy who I blamed for most of the uncertainty about the I’ve felt about the world since I was 16.
Before taking his class, sure, I’d been a critical thinker and dabbled with questions like whether or not a number with infinite decimals is in fact greater than the largest number we can come up with. And how that relates to fractals etc.
But this guy, I mean, the ways in which he challenged our minds? To put a teenager through that kind of stuff. Seriously, I don’t think it’s healthy.
It began to show about halfway through the semester. I think about 8 out of the original 25 were actually turning up and most had already switched to another subject.
You know how they depict torture and interrogations in movies? It was kind of like that, only with our brains. Mental waterboarding.
He’d explain a philosophical problem, then turn it on its head a couple of times and ask us: “What do you think?”. If we agreed he’d get a stern look “Well, what about this? And that? Have you considered it?” we’d obviously shit ourselves and make a 180 and agree with that. Then he’d get really pissed off, often raising his voice: “What is it that you actually THINK?! Explain yourself!”
So, here he was. The bane of my brain. What should I say?
Should I ask him if he’s still the same asshole? Should I tell him that he probably ruined a perfectly good subject for a lot of us?
No, he didn’t really do that. Did he?
He asked a lot from us, that’s for sure. Was he maybe like the teacher in “Whiplash”? The kind of guy who’d push and push until you broke just to see if you had the mettle?
Maybe he was.
But that smile lead me to believe that he’d probably heard it all before and no matter what I said he knew that if nothing else it had made an impact. It had made you feel something about him and the subject.
As I gave him the bag I told him what I felt.
“Thank you. You were one of the few teachers who actually taught me how to think rather than what to think.”
The smile broadened and he said: “You know, believe it or not but, I remember you guys. There weren’t that many of you left towards the end of the course. I admire you for sticking with it.”
Now, this could be one of those standard answers he probably had prepared but it also goes to show that he actually knew what he was doing. I don’t believe he was the most admired or respected teacher but what he did served its purpose for those willing to stick with it.
I didn’t fully appreciate what he’d actually done for us until a couple of days ago when I was listening to the course “Plato, Socrates and the Dialogues”.
Whenever I’d heard someone say “Oh, that person is so sophisticated!” it made me want to cringe. I didn’t really understand why. I’ve used the quote “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” to prove a point several times but it feels off for some reason.
There was a word there that kept popping up. It finally helped me understand why I don’t like the word “sophistication”. What they were talking about was the so called “sophists”.
I had to look it up. And here’s the definition of a sophist: “One who makes use of fallacious arguments”.
Now, I can’t remember if he ever explicitly mentioned or explained who the sophists were during his lectures but now I finally saw what he was doing up there in front of us. He was acting out the role of the sophist and then challenging us to counter the arguments.
He didn’t want to tell us that “this is right and this is wrong”, he showed by example what the wrong way to think is and let us decide for ourselves how we felt about it. If we accepted that what he showed us was a proper representation of how philosophy works then we’d missed the point.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to meet him again but I’d sure like to know if this was in fact what he’d done. Then again, a magician never reveals his secrets.
Who’s your favorite teacher? What is the main lesson they imparted to you?
Let me know in the comments and hit me up on Twitter!
Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!