Socrates and his Method with his Dog
I was laying outside in the shade of an amphora and awaiting for the wisest man in Athens to come home. Objectively, it had been a very long day (this was before we knew that time was relative). I was a bit tired due to having spent large portions of the afternoon dealing with the cat, who was a Cynic, which as you can imagine is very exhausting. I tried to be Stoic about it.
I had spent the rest of the day examining my life in the manner that Socrates encouraged. He was very big on that and I knew it pleased him that I spent so much of my time so engaged. After deep interior reflection, I had come to the conclusion that I was hungry. I was thinking about my hunger and the various ways I might kill it when I caught his scent and then heard his sandals scraping in the dirt on the front step.
I bolted up, thinking “He’s home!” and “I’m SO hungry.” It was a sort of thesis that might well solve its own antithetical. It had happened before.
I greeted him in the customary fashion, by barking and bounding up excitedly, paws upon his chest, undeterred by my relentless hunger pangs. Then the interrogation began. It was his method.
“Who’s a good boy?” Socrates asked.
I tilted my head sideways and cocked an ear. Besides self-examination, he was very into questions. So many questions. It was hard to believe that a guy with so many questions could be considered the wisest man in Athens, but knowledge was a new thing then and to tell the truth, people just weren’t that bright yet. I wondered, was he asking me this merely to uncover my ignorance or was it some attempt to enlighten himself by means of dialectic? Was there even a right answer to this question? Have rhetorical questions even been invented yet? His question only brought up more questions.
“Who’s a good boy?” he repeated.
It must have been a tough day at the Agora because this vexing issue seemed to dog his mind when he returned of an evening. Every. Single. Evening. I don’t know how they treated him at the Agora, but to me it seemed injudicious to brazenly put forth a question without establishing a philosophical framework. Primarily, does good exist? And if it does, must there by necessity exist an objective good? How might two entities come to full accord on what it is that determines good? Was true accord on this possible? He had so many questions, so much to learn.
“Who wants to go for a walk?” he said.
I circled around frantically to dogsplain to him the perceivable conclusiveness of this. Socrates considered himself wise only in that he knew what he did not know and this sort of question was emphatic testament to his ignorance.
Crossing Through the Dog-Doors of Perception
I looked at the door, I barked at the door, and then at him to try and explain. It was a pretty simple concept, after all. We were inside and thus on the wrong side of the door. So of course nature dictated an ineluctable desire to be on the other side of the door. Otherwise the door itself was rendered meaningless. We utilized the door for its purpose and I reminded myself that men are mortal and that Socrates was a man, therefore Socrates was mortal. Socrates was not the only one who could fetch syllogisms. Anyway, for a mortal man, he did the best he could.
We had a very nice walk, filled with more of Socrates’ questions but thankfully it was punctuated also with the redolence of myriad types of urine — and also shit. There was a lot of shit around and as I mentioned before I had been examining my hunger. The gods had been bounteous on that day, for there was dog shit and goat shit and even cat shit, so it met the objective definition of ‘good.’ Sadly, there was no Minotaur shit. I thought about the ship of Theseus and pondered for a bit if the shit on the stones of the Agora had been replaced with new shit, then was it now different shit or was it just same shit, different day? These were the big questions, but Socrates had not learned to delve yet into such imponderables. Socrates did not know much, either, about the discrete differences in defecation. He had much to learn and I understood why he considered himself ignorant.
We returned home, which was exciting because the inside was on the other side of the door. I barked with enthusiasm to try and elucidate another truth for him. The door existed to let us make passage and the passage inside necessitated that we would leave from the outside and inside AND outside were places to go and if you were leaving one than you should be eager to voyage into the other. I determined then that I would have to repeat this process for him many times in order to enlighten him.
We were not inside for more than a moment when the interrogation began again.
“Who’s hungry?” he said.
His questions were generally of the most banal nature and they did not confound me, for, as I said, I lived an examined life. I barked three times to help him figure it out because it was true, I was hungry. While he filled up my urn, I pondered again how he could return home each day without knowing the most essential basic nature of truth. Hunger was truth, I thought as I was eating, and if at the end of each hunger came food, it was the makings of a just and virtuous life indeed.
He served me a large portion, which almost matched the size of my appetite and while I ate I reflected that it was good that he did not try and teach at the Agora for he had so many questions and so much to learn and I would probably have to mentor him again on the morrow. I was sage and he badly needed wisdom.
As I was falling asleep, I heard him say again, “Who‘s a good boy?” and I knew how very lucky he was to know me, for he indeed had so very much to learn. I just hoped that he would see Plato at the Agora soon so that someone else could help explain to him that I was, in form, the very ideal of a ‘Good Boy.’
No question about it, I was Dog.
As Socrates said, know thyself through thy clapping.
If you enjoyed the philosophical musings of Socrates’ pooch, maybe toss us a bone (we don’t know how to actually beg, but hunger is truth).
For some further irreverence, you can fetch some other fun and flippant pieces here:
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Scott Stavrou is the author of Losing Venice, a novel