Friday, 4 December 2009

Student Speak with Forked Tongue

Portrait of Jadwiga Łuszczewska as Diotima by Józef Simmler - public domain, via Stefania Krzysztofowicz-Kozakowska at Wikimedia Commons I work in a school. Professional ethics, personal taste, and basic commonsense all support my general policy of not blogging about it. But a school is a place of education, and not only for its pupils. Sometimes one will stumble across an idea that - like the dodecahedron and the sonnet - belongs to the world. This week I experienced such an epiphany, and hasten to report it accordingly.

As I come in a-walking, one moist and mucky morning, I spied a brisk young teacher and a student they was warning. The student's response displayed, in almost Platonically pure form, an argumentative fallacy I never met or imagined before. I was so impressed, I nearly dropped me whack-foddly-doo-dah on my foot there and then.

I think the event is best commemorated and anonymized in a fittingly Platonic dialogue:


DIOTIMA, a Teacher: If Socrates has spent the entire lesson throwing weasels at the wall, then in a just school, ought he to have a Friday detention?

YOUNG SOCRATES, a Philosopher: No, it would be most heinously unjust.

DIOTIMA: In what does this injustice consist?

YOUNG SOCRATES: In that it respects persons, and not the law.

DIOTIMA: In what sense does it do so?

YOUNG SOCRATES: We know that Xanthippe also threw weasels at the wall, but we further know that Miss did not detain her, chizz chizz! Therefore Socrates cannot justly be detained either.

DIOTIMA: Will we not think the cases differ in both degree and intent, since Xanthippe was at least making some effort to restrain herself?

YOUNG SOCRATES: No she wasn't! I was too!



Truly, only the young and fresh of brain could come up with such a cast-iron stopper.

In related news, I was talking over lunch to a colleague who happens to have a teenage son, and had occasion to introduce her to Harry Frankfurt's great insight for our times. Now, there is a philosopher who has worked his way up to the top of my to-read list!

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