Caring thinking about caring thinking

by Oscar Brenifier, April 2008
Revision and suggestions by Janette Poulton


Discuss / diskuter


Socrates “caring thinking”

Like we have said before, if we had to propose a good example of “caring thinking” in the history of philosophy, it seems to us it would be the figure of Socrates, since for this forefather of philosophy the only adequate form actual thinking can take, is the one of dialogue. Thus the historical Socrates, as far as we know him, was going around the city, market place, gymnasium, private houses or elsewhere, looking for interlocutors, famous ones or banal ones, free men or slaves, in order to search for truth. He described himself as a lover—a passionate one indeed—for just like a lover he could not imagine himself existing or thinking outside of the relationship to others. Encountering the other was the very condition for truth, and his own addiction to truth was therefore an addiction to the other, his fellow human being. Thus we have here the double form of “caring thinking”, since he cared extremely both for the person in front of him and the content of what is being said. But of course, as a critic would comment, this was conditional love, since he could not love or would not love anymore anyone who would abandon truth as the primary object. Not that he despised the one that had a hard time looking for truth, this was for him not a problem, and he would patiently accompany that person in her wanderings. But if one would prefer glory, power or academic pretensions, then he would be pitiless, because the attitude was not conducive to searching for truth. Although he was not pitiless in the sense that he would condemn them, but simply that he would make them look foolish by creating the conditions where their own foolishness would appear: through their refusal to truthfully answer questions. Therefore we can see some sophist get angry with him, but never Socrates getting angry at anyone, as Plato depicts a Socrates that would relentlessly pursue his interlocutor, like the hound dog pursues its prey all the way to the far end of his hole.

What is the main instrument Socrates uses for his “caring thinking”? Dialectics, which is not only a methodology, but as well what Plato defines as “the art of questioning and answering”. And of course, contrary to those usual debates where no one really listens to the other, unlike those so-called philosophy workshops where we see participants raising his hand while someone is already speaking, in order to get his turn to speak and throw in his two bits, the art dialectics—dialogue—implies not only that one is very attentive to the other but that he wants—truly desires—to know more about his thinking. It is not therefore a mere politeness or good manner, a “democratic” attitude where everyone gets his “chance” to speak, but a real interest in deepening the other’s thinking. It is not respect, but passion, a passion for truth, and therefore a strong attachment to that other soul which is the condition and the means for attaining truth. Here of course, the critic will claim that the other becomes a mere instrument, he is instrumentalized in a terrible and harsh fashion, but Socrates will defend the idea—contrary to the more recent concept of man as his own end—that realizing one’s self implies becoming a vessel for the true, a channel for the good, a mirror for the beautiful. And indeed, what better statute can we give to a soul than reminding him who he is, a spark of the divine fire, and not some mere wanting beast trying to satisfy his desires, whose ego ideal is to become a “filled sponge”, what Nietzsche will later call the “last man”, the one who is not led by anything other than his own well-being and security, a non-person who has no drive to go beyond himself, a state of nihilism that today is too often conceived as “happiness”.

Thus “caring thinking” is to care about someone and not to abandon him to this sordid conception of “doing your own thing”, in a form of discussion where one “freely expresses himself”. The worse aberration being when such a gathering of egos is called “community of research”, when there is neither community, not research, but a mere bundling of egotistic opinions. True questioning implies being passionate about the other, since a condition of being able to question a person, is that one has to perceive what he says and thinks in order to get him to go further. True answering implies accepting the strangeness of what the other one is asking, and carefully answering without trying to dodge the issue, consciously or not. A positioning that implies a tremendous care, a very demanding “caring thinking”.


Page created: 26.01.09. Page last modified: 18.11.09 14:41.