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2 Day 1: First Steps

Chorus: There is a calm upon us that is far from calming; as the rising sun slowly fills the quiet street with a warm glow, the cool mist of morning resists, clinging to blades of grass and panes of glass. A gentle breeze, too quiet to feel, listlessly twists a single Poplar leaf, a frantically waving mitt. In a quaint, settled neighborhood, where century-old houses are divided into quarter homes, and rented and neglected by young scholars or working hands or others that support the metropolis of a state university, the bustle of life is ceaseless.

Morning passes, and the afternoon follows suit. Evening threatens as Socrates X strides into the sunset. He stops short at a small house on the nearest corner of two small, crossing roads. He looks carefully at the number on the house, and strokes his bearded chin. With a snap of fingers, he turns and returns the way he came, and pauses at the gate at the next house, a gate that sports a warning sign, Beware of the Dog. He looks around the yard, then reaches over, unlatches, and swings open the gate. As he secures the latch, the front door behind him opens and Hatch emerges holding a cigarette; a few words later, Hatch lights his cigarette and opens the door. 3 Dogs at PlayFour exuberant dogs tear out to greet the friendly stranger. The two humans are unable to speak as dogs bark at Socrates X and at each other; eventually, the dogs settle down, and the two friends engage in perfunctory talk about the dogs, the house and living arrangements, the weather, politics, and various other tangential topics. Hatch finishes his cigarette and carefully removes the fire from the butt, depositing the latter in a cylindrical bin next to the door. Everyone goes inside, and, as if he were a stranger, the dogs greet Socrates X anew, and for some time the exuberance continues. Hatch retrieves two bottles of Coca-Cola, and hands one to his sitting guest.

Socrates X: Thank you, Hatch. It’s my favorite, actually, so far as these drinks go.

Hatch: It’s my pleasure. It’s the least I can do (and something I can afford). Sorry about the dogs, though, they’re very — um — forward.

Socrates X: Please! Do not be concerned! I love dogs in general, and after these few minutes I can safely say I love these dogs in particular. [He scratches one on his lap, and one sitting between his knees, talking as much to them as to Hatch; he points — briefly! — to the acoustic guitar standing against the wall] I would love to hear you play sometime — you will let me know when your band plays?

Hatch: [Picks up the guitar and absentmindedly tunes it] Wanna hear a song? [Socrates X nods, and Hatch plays] [TBA]

Socrates X: That was wonderful!

Hatch: Thanks. It’s a little song that came to me the other day — after we met, actually.

Socrates X: I thought so. [Smiling] There was a subtle quality to it. But seriously — what is your band’s name? — when are you playing again?

Hatch: We don’t have any dates any time soon — maybe one in a month or two. We call ourselves Flaming Dialectic.

Socrates X: [By all measures, shocked] Flaming Dialectic?

Hatch: Yeah! It’s catchy, huh? I don’t know what it means exactly. Benny — our drummer — thought of it, and it sounded good. Does it mean anything? Anything important?

Socrates X: Actually, yes and yes. We do not have the time right now to delve into the mysteries of the dialectic. We will discuss that at a later time. [TBD] For now, I will give you the formulation: Thesis plus its Antithesis equals Synthesis. Simple, right?

Hatch: Sure. I think I’ve heard those words before.

Socrates X: [Chuckling] Trust me, if you are patient and receptive, you will understand what it means.

Hatch: [Smirking] I can’t wait. So where do we start?

Socrates X: Right here will do. [Both chuckle] Seriously, language is a proper starting point.

Hatch: Language? But, if we speak the same language what’s the problem? Or, is the same language the place to start?

Socrates X: I can see you are receptive! We do assume that we speak the same language, an innocent assumption that is sometimes dangerous. But what I would like to point out is that language can sometimes play tricks on us. We need to, therefore, establish some guidelines, some general agreement that we all can accept. Otherwise we will be — as they say — talking at cross-purposes.

Hatch: But such an agreement will also require language. Won’t we need some kind of agreement on that?

Socrates X: Good Question! You have pointed out a classic regressive argument. I’m sure we will talk a lot more about these arguments, both in general [TBD] and some specific uses [TBD]. In this case, it is not of consequence. See, we are not trying (at least not yet) to establish a foundation for language, for how and why it works. For now, we will assume language does work, and move from there; later on, we will try to address these other fundamentals [TBD]. Is this agreeable?

Hatch: Yes, of course. I didn’t mean to throw you off.

Socrates X: You did no such thing! This is all important! If you ever have a question, please ask; more often than not, a question can help clarify the problem and hint at its solution. (This is often dialectical.) It is not an understatement to say that questions are some of the most potent tools at our disposal. But let us get back to the start. As you said, we need a common language, or least a way to express information in such a way that anyone who cares to can understand.

Hatch: Like English!

Socrates X: That does help, but even within the same language there are ambiguities, and more important for our purposes today, there is much that is unnecessary and even distracting. Since we are using (or practicing) philosophy, and it is of utmost importance that we only concern ourselves with what will help us “to make sound judgments,” we must dismiss anything that does not help us acquire these tools. The first thing we should note is that we can categorize parts of language in a way that will help. There are, as far as we are concerned here, three groups: 1) Those parts of language that (generally) are useful; 2) those parts that (generally) are not useful; and, 3) those parts that are both, or about which we are unsure. These three groups cover everything, do they not?

Hatch: I think so. But why did you say “generally” for the first two groups?

Socrates X: Good question. It is mainly because of the nature of language; it is incredibly flexible, and difficult to cleanly classify. [Noticing that Hatch looks confused] That was not much help? [Hatch slowly shakes his head] Do not be concerned. I believe it will become clear enough after a while.

Hatch: Okay. Patience. You need a drink? [Socrates X nods] So do I. I need a bathroom break, too. And a cigarette.

Chorus: As Hatch heads off to fulfill the most immediate of these desires, Socrates X wanders around the living room, appreciating even so minuscule and regulated access to other’s lives. He pauses for some time before a large Ansel Adams print hanging over the fireplace. Clearing Winter Storm, is a favorite, a masterpiece of contrast and beauty, of magnitude and scale, and is flanked by two smaller prints, though unrecognized. Moving on, taking in the knick-knacks on the mantle, the stuffed animals on a pie safe in the corner, and the extensive DVD and CD movie and music entertainment center, Socrates X settles on a glass-fronted display cabinet. Inside, densely packed, assembled Star Wars Lego models proudly pose.

In due time, Hatch returns. He passes a cold bottle of Coke to Socrates X, who receives it graciously and then asks the way to the bathroom. In his absence, Hatch lets the dogs out, and lights a cigarette. When Socrates X returns, both join the dogs outside where he is greeted again as a stranger. The conversation comes back to language.

Socrates X: There are kinds of words and phrases and even sentences which rarely help us. After all, we want that which will help us make good decisions (and, by extension, persuade others to decide likewise). Generally, we want information, truth, facts; we want the means to work with these to establish new information, reveal obscure facts and hence embrace a perhaps more expansive truth.

Hatch: It sounds very scientific!

Socrates X: That is not a mistake. Science is a specialized kind of philosophy. It uses the basic tools and methods, with some refinement, and limits their use to the verifiable. Both must agree on what kinds of words to use. There is very little that is useful in the command, for example, “Go to bed!” Threats, commands, exclamations, even questions, convey little within and of themselves.

Hatch: But Socrates X, didn’t you say that questions are extremely important?

Socrates X: I said that questions can be important tools. In fact, given the appropriate time and place, any of these can be useful tools. But generally, none of these are, by themselves, useful. We can delve into this later [ TBA]. For now, let us turn to what is useful. Would you agree that when we want to make sense of the world, we need the tools of language that deal with the world, that describe something about the world?

Hatch: That would make sense. Words that stand for things, sentences that mean something.

Socrates X: Exactly. I propose that until we find a better way (if there is such — maybe we will discuss this another time [TBD]), we can use functional definitions. Any objections? [Hatch shakes his head] Good. We will also use the words terms and statements. Terms are words that stand for something that can be the subject of a sentence — proper and common names, descriptive phrases, and so on. Statements are sentences that are true or false. How does that sound?

Hatch: It sounds alright. It makes sense, actually. I guess we’d just have to refer back to its definition, as a test so to speak, if we’re not sure.

Socrates X: Yes. But I must also point out that when we do this — use a functional definition — we need to be careful that the assumptions inherent in such do not limit our possibilities later on.

Hatch: I’ll take your word for it. [Finishing his cigarette] So far I can’t complain!

Socrates X: That is reassuring. The next time we get together, we should cover different kinds of statements, [ TBA] and the operations we can use to relate them. Tonight, however, I have to move on.

Hatch: Well, it was a pleasure to see you again. But, Socrates X, did we accomplish anything?

Socrates X: Oh yes! Yes, we did. We have fashioned for ourselves some of the most fundamental building blocks of all arguments. It is a vital foundation on which to build. We are well on our way. You are still with me? [Hatch nods] Good. Do you work tomorrow?

Hatch: Oh, yeah, my second day. I’m training to open the store, so I’ll be there about nine-thirty. Wanna come by for lunch?

Socrates X: I just might. Thank you, Hatch, for your hospitality and pleasant company.

Hatch: Anytime, Socrates X, mi casa es su casa!

Chorus: Socrates X bids farewell to each of the four dogs in turn, and slips out the gate. In the shallow glow of the streetlamps, he offers a quick wave back to Hatch, and continues into the night. In the Northern sky, a lazy crescent moon hangs low, barely clearing the ridgeline in the distance.

Previous: Preamble [TBA]
Next: Day 2: Second Motions