Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Midwifery

It occurred to me that there might me those here who would not understand the historical reference in the title of the blog. It comes from Plato's description of the philosophical labor of Socrates.

My [i.e. Socrates'] art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs, in that I attend men and not women; and look after their souls when they are in labor, and not after their bodies: and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the mind of the young man brings forth is a false idol or a noble and true birth. Like the mid-wives, I am barren, and the reproach which is often made against me, that I ask questions of others and have not the wit to answer them myself, is very just-the reason is, that the god compels me to be a midwife, but does not allow me to bring forth. Therefore I am not myself at all wise, nor have I anything to show which is the invention or birth of my own soul, but those who converse with me profit. Some of them appear dull enough at first, but afterwards, as our acquaintance ripens, if the god is gracious to them, they all make astonishing progress; and this in the opinion of others as well as in their own. It is quite dear that they never learned anything from me; the many fine discoveries to which they cling are of their own making. But to me and the god they owe their delivery.
(Theaetetus 150 b-151d)

I make no such grand claims for myself as Socrates does. I cannot claim to have "delivered" in anyone any worthwhile idea. Nor do I say of myself that I am completely barren of ideas. I am not (nor, of course, was Socrates). Nonetheless, I very much like the metaphor. I do hope to think along with others, to help them and myself too to think a bit more deeply and clearly about the matters I take up. Midwifery seems a not completely inappropriate metaphor for this.

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