So we have referendums, polls, political votes, surveys, juries, committees, parliaments, and consumer groups. The majority view must prevail. We have traditions, practices, accepted beliefs, and ways of life. The status quo must prevail. But where does the truth lie and is the will of the majority always right?
Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived in the fifth century before the common era and was considered to be the main source of Western thought. He was most famous for challenging conventional thinking and never trusted conventional wisdom or the thoughts of the majority. Instead, he developed a method for critiquing the prevailing doctrines and searching for where the real truth lay.
Author Alain de Botton summarised the Socratic method of thinking to search for truth in the following steps:
- Think of a statement broadly accepted as being common sense
- Imagine that the statement is false and search for example that support that argument
- When a situation is found, the statement must indeed be false or imprecise
- Reformulate the statement by including the exception
- Repeat the process and continue to add exceptions to come closer to the truth of the statement
- “The product of thought is, superior to the product of intuition”
Socrates said, “Why should we pay so much attention to what the majority thinks?”. It is easy to understand what he meant by this. In these days of social media mob rule is common and jingoism is rife. To question is to invite trolls or lose “likes”.
Socrates’ student Plato summed up the above by saying “A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.” Sometimes we must be brave and swim against the stream, despite the personal cost of losing popularity among our peers.
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