[Socratic paradox] I know one thing: that I know nothing

The Greek philosopher Socrates is considered to be one of the wisest person, he was one of the founders of Western philosophy. He however used to say: “I know one thing: that I know nothing”. (Source)

On the contrary, when we see the debates on electronic media or the posts of most people on social networking sites like Facebook, we find that these people are so sure of ‘what they know’ that they are not even willing to listen an alternative point of view.

We, therefore, wonder how a person who is treated by the world as the wisest person says that ‘he knows nothing’ while so many ordinary folks claim to have all the knowledge of the world.

Was Socrates lying; or was he just trying to be humble; or was he actually speaking the truth?

A lot of what we are ‘know’ may actually be useless for us unless we apply the triple filter test.

triple_filter_test

You can easily see that most of what is believed to be ‘knowledge’ is actually neither true, nor good nor even useful.  Yet people are so proud having such knowledge that are busy convincing others that they have solutions of all the problems of the world.

Only an ignorant person can give a categorical reply to all questions of life.  Most people believe that they can answer any question of life. It requires the wisdom of highest order to accept that you don’t know much about anything. Hence only a wise man can say these words “I don’t know”, while fools are answering all questions of life.

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The Socratic Triple Filter Test

In ancient Greece, Socrates (the famous philosopher) was visited by an acquaintance of his. Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass the “Triple-Filter test”.

The first filter, he explained, is Truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”

Socrates cut him off. “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “No! Actually, just the opposite. You see …”

Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind. One filter still remains, though, so you may yet still tell me. That is Usefulness or Necessity. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”  A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well, then,” Socrates said, turning on his heel. “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

Source: Jennifer Cook O’Toole, The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules (Jessica Kingsley Publications, 2012) page 137

Now consider this

Before you answer a question or voice your opinion, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it good? Is it kind? Is it useful? Is it necessary? If it passes these filters, speak up. If not, either find a tactful way to make it pass or better still, keep it to yourself.

Most people leave it at that and assume that the story is just about the information we spread. What if the real truth behind it, however, is about the information we seek and create. Imagine how different the world would be if we only chose to seek or create information that was true, good, or useful.

Imagine how different the world would be if we only chose to seek or create information that was true, good, or useful.

triple_filter_test

Give it a try, and you will be amazed at the difference it makes in how you feel and how you communicate!