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Letters encourage lazy learners?

You who are the father of letters ... attribute to them a quality which they cannot have ... The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing ... having the show of wisdom without the reality. (Plato, From Phaedrus)

While I can understand Socrates' argument that writing things down gives us an excuse to forget about things until we read them again, I think he's wishing for an ideal that simply isn't practical. As the expanse of human knowledge grew exponentially, people were forced to write things down because there simply wasn't enough time to pass everything along from person to person through speech and memorization alone.

He believes people are better off storing everything in memory because that leads to a more concrete recollection of the material, but there's more to wisdom than simply knowing the facts. A student can memorize an entire test's worth of material and still have little to no understanding of it, making the knowledge useless. Of course, it's probably better to know and understand material without having to glance at notes, but as every student (or former student) knows, sometimes you're asked to learn material and then you never use it again, which means memorizing it is simply a waste of time. Writing may give us an excuse to forget things, but if you ask me, it's not the letters but the ideas they represent that often fail to stick in our minds. If I encounter an interesting or particularly useful fact or idea, I'm likely to remember it regardless of whether I heard it or read it.

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Comments

"A student can memorize an entire test's worth of material and still have little to no understanding of it, making the knowledge useless."

I think that why Socrates is against writing, because to memorize text can sometimes be less effective than having a trained professional explain the thoughts and ideas. I agree with your statement and believe Socrates was naive in trying to shun writing, but he seems to favor oral communication more because it is more personal, and therefore may help that individual relate and learn to ideas presented. Again, I agree with your statements, but perhaps you confused Socrates org. intentions. But the again, perhaps I'm wrong, who knows. If Socrates was here, he might be able to explain to us why his ideas are so naive (*another reason he hates writing)

Ahh the comparison of memory to reminiscence and truth to semblance was also something that I found intriguing about the reading. The key link is that reminiscence is not an accurate reflection, but rather an interpretation. The same goes for the truth comparison. I also agree with you that there is more to wisdom than knowing facts and a lot of that has to do with the application of wisdom.

That is a valid point, that writing things down gives society permission to just forget things. It is funny that plato reflected on that, escpecially since we now live in an age where you can electronically save and gain quick access so much information. As students, I think we all have had experiences with remembering infor to for the good of our major and just doing it to pass a test. That's why I think math is so useless to so many.

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