Socrates and the Stick, or, An Amusing Midterm Answer
Student’s description of Socrates “stick argument”(paraphrased):
Socrates wanted to answer the question of how we make sense of equality when there is nothing in the material world that is exactly the same. Socrates said that we will understand equality when we detach the body from the soul. Once the soul is gone, bodies are nothing but sticks, and sticks can be seen as equal entities. Therefore humans are equal according to Socrates.
(For those who care, the correct answer would’ve been something alone the lines of: In the Phaedo, Socrates attempts to provide evidence to support his theory that knowledge is learned via recollection and consequently that the soul must be immortal. One of his arguments is that there are no two sticks [or other material objects] in the world that are truly equal, and yet we seem to have an idea of what equality is. Thus the idea of equality must come from somewhere other than the material world, and thus Socrates proposes the existence of the world of the Forms. When the body dies, the soul leaves the body and goes to the world of the Forms, where it learns about perfect Forms such as equality and justice. When the soul returns to a body, it forgets most of what it learned in the world of the Forms, but is able to recollect or relearn things it had previously learned about in the world of the forms. Thus, people are able to identify sticks that seem to be equal, yet they are also able to recognize that no two sticks are perfectly Equal, since these material sticks are never perfectly equal as only the Form of Equality can display perfect Equality. Significantly, the theory of recollection only makes sense if one assumes that there is a soul and one assumes that the soul is immortal. The stick argument, then, helps Socrates to explain his theory of recollection as an explanation for the way people come to know things, and the theory of recollection in turn, if believed, would necessitate belief in the soul’s immortality, according to Socrates.)