Plato, Writing Materials


“…this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.” (p. 362) -- Plato, Writing Materials

Socrates and Phaedrus debate whether or not one can truly learn anything visually, as opposed to orally. They say that knowledge given orally is more likely to be retained and stored in your long term memory. They talk about writing like we talk of new technological inventions. When we think of the definition of technology, we think of gadgets, not of writing.


Has anybody ever heard of a short term memory? I feel that we learn more visually moreso than orally. I can remember seeing the space shuttle explode (anniversary:Jan.28). I can remember seeing Ronald Reagan being shot, as well as John Lennon. I cannot remember what I talked about yesterday.

Has anybody ever heard of a short term memory? I have. I feel that we learn more visually than orally. I can remember seeing the space shuttle explosion on TV. I can remember seeing John Lennon, and Ronald Reagan being shot, from watching the news. I cannot remember what I talked about yesterday. Makes sense to me.

Its been proven that people learn in a variety of ways, and to force specific ways of learning, simply because they work for one, is not affective to a large audience. Look at today, cinema dominates over most forms of communication. Sure its a visual medium, but how often to we related to the characters when the spill their guts out to the camera (or in other words, directly to us). Imagine you favorite movie quotes being first experienced through the written word. While there are flaws in this examples, I believe the only way to defend Socrates and his belief in the power of oral communication, is to relate it to something similiar within our culture (since oral is near bottom on popularity). Look at schools, there a combination of both. I agree with the progression of communication, but I still feel the need to try and defend Socrates.

I believe Socrates wasn't solely arguing that oral communication is a better method of learning (through listening), but also that it is a better method of educating others. I think he believed the spoken word empowers an educator in ways the written word cannot.

It makes sense that he'd have such an opinion; after all, he was a master of this method of teaching. The excerpt we read is a prime example. He teaches by asking questions of his student (Phaedrus), a method which wouldn't work if attempted with the written word. A book can't ask a reader questions and then provide responses tailored specifically to the reader's answers; it can only provide whatever prepackaged information the writer provided within its text before its publication.

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