From page 362 of "Writing Material":
"I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a questions to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect of defend themselves." -Socrates
Compared to the spoken word, Socrates felt that the written word was a less intelligent form of art. He likened writing to paintings, even going so far as to call words images themselves. This is a completely new concept of looking at writing for me. I can absolutely agree with the point Socrates was driving home in this pleasantly sincere and educational debate. I feel Socrates is trying to say that although writing is useful for recording memories and reminiscing about the past, it is not a good educational tool. He compares writing to astronomy and mathematics-- subjects that have to be carefully studied by observation, repetition, and instruction. The subject of writing cannot be taught directly because there are endless topics to be written about and endless styles of writing. Socrates believed the oral word was much more effective because the speaker is on hand to answer any questions.
That was one claim I found to be a bit confusing. Who is Socrates to say the text will not answer potential questions the reader may have on later pages? Who is he to say that a book teaching Geometry is less effective than an instructor orally teaching a class? I think Socrates is being very narrow minded here. He should take into account the fact that people have different methods of learning which work better for them.
Or perhaps I'm reading this all wrong. Philosophers always tend to befuddle me.
Posted by StormyKnight at January 28, 2008 7:17 PM