Anyone Can Provide Some Truth

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In Plato's Phaedrus, the character Socrates says, "The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from 'oak or rock,' it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes" (From Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek's Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age page 362).  This excerpt really hit home for me because every year in high school we had to write a large research paper in English, and every year I found myself wondering what made all of these so-called experts more correct than me.  They were certainly better writers, but why could I not just prove my own point using the original text of whatever piece of literature I chose to write about? 

Of course, I see, and even then saw, the value of learning from those who came before me, especially those who specialize in a specific topic and who really are experts in their subject.  At the same time, however, I think that what I felt was similar to the point expressed by the character Socrates in the excerpt above.  What I was really wondering was why their "truth" was more true than the "truth" that I found when reading the play myself.  It seemed to me that people were so caught up in the idea of someone being an expert (i.e. did they have an advanced college degree) that they forgot that less formally educated people, including children, could have great, and even innovative, ideas too.  People, at least my teachers, worried more about "who the speaker was" than what the speaker was saying. 

This trend, although having its important place in research, seems to be slowly returning to those ideas expressed above by Plato's character Socrates, and I think this change is occurring through various aspects of the Internet.  Through online reference sites like Wikipedia, through activities like blogging, and through the general design and flow of information that is characteristic of websites, like links to other pages, knowledge is able to be spread by many different types of people in many different ways.  A young child is able to change the information on a Wikipedia page, for good or for ill, more types of people are able to exchange more information with other types of people, and generally communication of information has expanded to allow anyone with the necessary skills to participate. 

I think that Plato, in his dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus, is trying to point out less the value of truth in the spoken word, but rather the importance of thoroughly examining any so-called truth that one hears or reads rather than accepting it right away.  This wisdom is especially important for people now, for I could easily create a website with any information I want on it, say that I am the Professor of Math at _____ University, when in reality I can barely do Calculus, and someone would probably believe me.  This ancient text shows us today that we have as much reason to analyze the truth as scholars did then.  At the same time, the ease of usage and transmission of information via the Internet allows for more ideas to be spread by anyone, which is also a benefit to us.


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