In the Phaedrus, Socrates argues that writing is an obstacle to learning. After all, he reasons, people become lazy about memorizing knowledge and thus storing it in their minds when they perceive that knowledge is already stored in a book. Furthermore, one cannot interact with a book; it is an inanimate object. Therefore, its ability to teach or to be said to contain wisdom is quite limited. And hence, Socrates concludes, we must direct attention to the task of writing knowledge on people's souls rather than on paper.
My paper will first argue that Socrates' position on these matters would lead him to prefer electronic media (such as the Internet) over books as a method of learning. It will become clear that a Platonic view of human nature in general is both reflected and produced by a culture that immerses itself in electronic media.
Aristotle's alternative approach to the nature of human learning, and to human nature itself, will be the next topic to be considered in my paper. I will demonstrate that, as a means of communication, books are more consonant with an Aristotelian outlook on life than are electronic resources.
Finally, using the insights of Plato and others, I will show that both books and electronic media present a danger that is often overlooked: the danger that we will prefer the medium to the message. The importance of the personal presence of a teacher, the value of oral conversation in general, and the quest for objective truth are all greatly underestimated in our society.
|Keywords:||Philosophy, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Internet, Books, Communication|
Visiting Professor, Philosophy Department, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
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