You’ve probably heard of Socrates, the Greek philosopher from 470 BC.
Many people credit him as THE founder of Western philosophy. He had extraordinary insight, integrity, self-mastery, and argumentative skills.
But things have moved on in the last 2,500 years (to put it mildly).
And even Socrates would be blown away by what we have available to us today.
Think about it.
Sundials, catapults, and mirrors were the latest technology back then.
So how would Socrates react to something like ChatGPT? An artificial intelligence language model capable of learning through conversation.
After all, his best work was created through thought-provoking conversations known as Socratic dialogue.
ChatGPT may just be the perfect tool for Socrates to take his philosophical ideas to another level!
Here are seven things that would probably be discussed.
1) What is knowledge?
During his life, Socrates was on a perpetual pursuit of wisdom. He might start by asking ChatGPT to define knowledge and how to best acquire it.
“I know that I know nothing”.
It was said that Socrates was only wiser than others because he was completely convinced that he knew nothing.
And recognizing your own ignorance is the first step in acquiring knowledge.
He also said that even though no human can reach wisdom, seeking it is the best thing someone can do.
The modern equivalent is understanding that material possessions, money, or prestige shouldn’t be your focus in life.
Instead, stay humble, have an open mind, and value knowledge over materialism and status.
2) Why do people fear death?
Socrates served as a soldier and wasn’t afraid of death.
In fact, even when he was given the death penalty, he probably could have escaped Athens and avoided his sentence.
Instead, he chose to stay and face his accusers.
During his trial, he supposedly uttered “The unexamined life is not worth living”.
Meaning, he was 100% committed to fulfilling his goal of investigating and understanding life. Even more so than life itself.
Given his calm acceptance of death, I’m sure Socrates would be interested in discussing fear and human mortality with ChatGPT.
3) Can virtue be taught?
Are we born good people or taught to be good?
Socrates questioned this.
Whether moral standards could be learned or if they come naturally.
He concluded that since some of the most virtuous people of Athens could not teach their children virtue, “virtue can certainly not be taught”.
It’s not like we don’t try.
Who remembers their parents teaching them to say please and thank you? Or how to queue up respectfully and keep quiet to not disturb others.
But ultimately, when we become fully grown adults it’s hard to change who we are (deep down). Do you have empathy and morals?
Sure, you can fake it.
Perhaps it’s what we did as children, to please our parents.
And most of us do today, to fit into society.
But how many of us would take the time out of our day to actually help a stranger in need (if nobody was watching) just to “do the right thing”?
What if they needed constant help 24/7? And where do you draw the line?
So the question “Can you teach virtue?” remains an intriguing one.
4) Does God exist?
Given Socrates lived in 400 BC, we’re talking about ancient Greek gods here.
But he wasn’t really a fan of religion as a whole and challenged the common views of his times.
He made many enemies by constantly questioning young people on the subject. In fact, “corrupting the youth” was the reason he got sentenced to death.
None of his dialogues probe whether gods exist or not.
A case can be made that Socrates was agnostic as he talked about the great unknown after death.
Whatever his actual beliefs, he’d certainly want to discuss the topic with ChatGPT.
5) How do you truly know yourself?
“Know thyself” was inscribed in the Temple of Apollo and had a big impact on Socrates.
It inspired him to develop Socratic questioning, designed to challenge the accuracy and completeness of opinions or knowledge.
And that’s not all.
This maxim has been repeated throughout history in many different cultures around the world.
From Stoicism and Christianity to the Middle Ages and 18th-century English literature.
It’s been interpreted in several forms including “know your limits”, “know your faults”, “know your soul”, and “He who knows himself knows his Lord.”
But they all have one thing in common.
In other words, whatever life throws at you, start by examining yourself, not external entities!
Own your mistakes and learn from them, don’t blame others. Take responsibility.
6) What is the meaning of life?
Socrates lived his life in a constant state of self-examination.
To him, the meaning of life was to become a better human being by acquiring as much personal and spiritual knowledge as possible.
Through this process, he would achieve eudaimonia.
But there’s more.
Despite coming from a relatively wealthy family, he lived a frugal life.
He wasn’t interested in money or possessions. Instead, he seeked an active life driven by reason.
Socrates said, “It is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one”. This was his argument against a hedonistic lifestyle.
7) What is right and wrong?
Socrates was fascinated by the nature of justice. So he would probably be interested in exploring the principles that underlie a just and fair society.
He actually believed that nobody does wrong voluntarily and that evil is the result of ignorance.
Bear with me on this.
Socrates concluded that the motivation for every action is self-interest.
In other words, a person will always choose the path that (at the time of the decision) will bring them the greatest benefit.
Even if (in the short-term) the outcome is undesirable.
For example, drinking unpleasant medicine to ultimately get better.
So acts of wrongdoing are by people who are either misguided and don’t understand what is best for them, or where the alternatives are even worse.