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(Essay #86)  

"Philosophy begins when one learns to doubt--particularly to doubt one's cherished beliefs, one's dogmas and one's axioms. Who knows how these cherished beliefs become certainties with us, and whether some secret wish did not furtively beget them, clothing desire in the dress of thought? There is no real philosophy until the mind turns round and examines itself."
                        ---"The Story of Philosophy" by Will Duran

The ultimate goal of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was to discover the right way, the ethical way, to live. To attain this lofty objective, he spent much of his time questioning others on moral issues. His questions most often revolved around defining moral terms that were important to living a good life. Socrates felt that the foundation of truth could be found in precise and proper definitions. A precise definition of the terms is a necessary and beneficial preliminary step in any problem solving process or debate.

Socrates' questions would test these definitions, trying to evaluate their potential implications and ramifications. Every aspect of the definition would be scrutinized until its barest skeleton remained, paring it down to its most precise definition. Or, more often than not, proving a definition was inadequate but not offering another definition to replace it. His style of questioning is known as the "elenchus" though it is more commonly referred to as the Socratic Method. The term "elenchus" can mean "testing," "refutation," or "cross-examination."

Our common view of the Socratic Method differs in some ways from what Socrates actually engaged in. The modern version of the Socratic Method commonly refers to an educational process whereby an instructor, instead of lecturing, poses a series of questions to a student or students. The intent of the questioning is to force the students to derive the correct answer on their own. The students become responsible for more than rote memorization of a lecture. The student must actively think on their own, to truly try to understand the matter being questioned. It is a very popular and successful educational tool today, used in many different disciplines and not just philosophy.

The elenchus involved an attempt to remove those false opinions which people held that prevented them from realizing the truth. In order to do this, Socrates would pose a series of questions, trying to discern where a person's beliefs were in some way inconsistent, ambiguous or otherwise improper. The constant questioning would force the person to closely examine his beliefs. Once these beliefs were shown to be incorrect, Socrates would then ideally lead this person to a set of more accurate beliefs. This questioning was not meant to destroy a person's beliefs, but to create new ones, and get closer to truth. Socrates believed that this would increase the virtue of the person being questioned, as well as himself.

The elenchus is more than just a method of philosophical analysis. It possesses many different levels. The elenchus is also a framework by which the character of those being questioned can be revealed. The elenchus requires much from the person being cross-examined. Such a person must be honest enough to say what they really think about things. They must be humble enough to admit to their ignorance in certain matters. They must also possess sufficient courage to persevere with the questions even when they are getting angry or uncomfortable.

Consider how angry or disturbed some individuals get in Halsoft when their opinions are questioned on the message boards. Such individuals do not wish to have to defend their positions. They feel that their opinions are valid without any need for justification or support. There seems to be less of a concern for the truth. Socrates faced much anger and opposition from some of those he questioned. He faced ridicule and derision. And ultimately it contributed to his trial, conviction and suicide. Yet still, Socrates would never have changed one moment of his life.

Could the Socratic Method be used to educate people concerning Gor, especially in living a Gorean philosophy or lifestyle? If it is possible, should it be done? Would the effect of using this Method be beneficial? Or would it negatively impact upon the beliefs of real-time Goreans? Would real-time Goreans even be willing to undergo the questioning of the Socratic Method? Would they have the honesty, humility and courage necessary to face the elenchus? Would the Socratic Method help to validate or invalidate the principles of the Gorean philosophy?

As being Gorean is seen as a way to live, a philosophical choice on how to conduct one's life, then it would be something that Socrates would have chosen to subject to the elenchus. Socrates would be interested in defining certain relevant terms, in the context of real-time Gor, such as: Gorean, lifestyler, male dominance, honor, Caste Codes, and slavery. Would it be of benefit to seek more precise definitions for these words? If not, then why not? Are the definitions too individualized and thus defy precision? Would more precise definitions bring the Gorean community closer together or would it drive it further apart?

Fortunately, a sage such as Socrates is not needed to perform the elenchus. Socrates felt that anyone was capable of being the questioner in this type of cross-examination. He even encouraged others to avail themselves of this method. So why couldn't we give it a try if we so desired? But that is probably the key, the desire to engage in the elenchus. How many would be willing to be the questioner? How many would be willing to subject themselves to such a cross-examination? Unfortunately, there are probably few who would participate in such an endeavor.

                        "Do not ask the stones or the trees how to live; they cannot tell you; they do not have tongues; do not ask the wise man how to live, for, if he knows, he will know he cannot tell you; if you would learn how to live do not ask the question, its answer is not in the question but in the answer, which is not in words, do not ask how to live, but instead proceed to do so."
(Marauders of Gor, p.9)

Some of those who would oppose the use of the elenchus might point to the above quote to support their position that such questions are unnecessary. This is a quote that will be familiar with many, a quote that has often been posted and discussed. It is held up as an important aspect of being Gorean, of living life rather than talking about how one should live. Yet how applicable is this quote to real-time Goreans? Or is it only applicable to those who truly live on Gor?

Consider the fact that real-time Goreans do not start out living as Goreans. Instead, they first spend time learning what it means to be Gorean, questioning what it means to live as a Gorean, reading the Gorean novels to educate themselves. So, their very actions contradict the above quote. They must spend time learning and questioning before they can just live as a Gorean. Once they understand what it means to be Gorean, they can live, but not until the initial questioning and education occurs.

Now, to a Gorean of the books, there would be little need to ask questions about how to live. They are raised since birth on the principles of what we know as the Gorean philosophy. They are taught to live in accordance with nature. In fact, their entire society has developed to promote these principles. There is a long tradition involved and Goreans often adhere to such tradition. There is no need to question their philosophy as they are raised on its beliefs until it becomes second nature to them, until it is as natural as breathing. Why should they question something that has proven a success to their society? They simply need to live, to follow the natural ways of their society. For them, the Socratic Method probably would seem superfluous.

We of Earth stand in a different place than the Goreans of the books. Because of cultural and societal differences, what works for them may not always work for us. Our society has conditioned us against much of the Gorean philosophy. Our society has developed counter to the Gorean philosophy and some of the fundamental principles of our own society are directly opposite to those of Gor. The Gorean philosophy is not natural to us due to our upbringing. We cannot simply "live" and hope to understand what we are doing and follow a Gorean philosophy. We have too many conditioned obstacles in our path. Norman mentions these points numerous times within the books, indicating the difficulties people of Earth would have in overcoming this societal conditioning.

"The unexamined life is not worth living."  (Socrates)

Socrates provides the primary method to defeat this societal and cultural conditioning. We must examine our lives, to subject ourselves to questioning on how we should live. Mere "living" alone is sufficient to overcome all of the obstacles. We need to question and analyze the Gorean philosophy. We need to determine whether it is a proper way to live. We need to determine its validity in our lives. We need to discover why and how we should break the conditioning we have received throughout our lives. We need to read the Gor books to learn exactly what the Gorean philosophy entails. We need to discuss the matter, to question each other about our beliefs.

All of thus does not occur over night. It is a lifelong process, a continuous learning curve. We often fail to realize all of the various ways we have been conditioned so it becomes even that more difficult to counter. Thus, the deeper our examinations of ourselves, our lives, philosophy and nature, then the better our chances of achieving success. And sharing this knowledge, discussing the matters with others, is another beneficial way to gain progress. In addition, such discussions may help others as well achieve their own results.

Which returns us to the elenchus as a potential tool for this type of exploration and questioning. If we acknowledge that we must learn how to live, how to be Gorean, then why shouldn't we avail ourselves of all potential methods of attaining such knowledge? The elenchus can be very beneficial so do not immediately dismiss the idea. Carefully consider it, assess the potential advantages. Let Socrates be your guide to a better, more fulfilled life.