Literary discovery

by Chris Bertram on October 7, 2003

From the “Guardian’s profile”:,9061,1057511,00.html today of Tory Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin:

bq. On his extensive office bookshelves there are enough volumes of Socrates … to suggest he is someone who thinks about politics using rare quantities of abstract nouns.

Shome mishtake surely? (Thanks to John Kozak in comments to an item below for the heads-up.)



Jimmy Doyle 10.07.03 at 10:44 pm

I can’t believe that a journalist on Norman Geras’s dnoc could possibly be that uneducated.


Kieran Healy 10.07.03 at 11:48 pm

They were all Highlights videos from Brazilian soccer games of the late 70s and early 80s.


PinkDreamPoppies 10.08.03 at 12:33 am

I’m trying really hard, but I cannot figure out what that’s supposed to say.


Ophelia Benson 10.08.03 at 1:08 am

I get it! It’s irony. ‘Enough volumes of Socrates to suggest’ – which would be zero, right? Geddit?

No, nor do I, but some people do irony better than others. Socrates for instance.


Clark Irwin 10.08.03 at 2:43 am

I was not aware that there WERE any volumes “by” Socrates. Are not all of Socrates’s utterances known to us only through volumes by Plato?


Harry Tuttle 10.08.03 at 2:42 pm

Socrates is also quoted extensively in Xenophon’s Memorabilia and is a character in Aristophanes’s The Clouds.

Oh crap, I just googled that and most of the returns are for a book by Leo Strauss.

I would guess it goes something like: “The spacing of the chapters in the Memorabilia clearly indicates Socrates would have agreed with everything I believe.”


Befuddled 10.08.03 at 3:18 pm

Am I the only one who is completely in the dark as to the point here?


rea 10.08.03 at 3:33 pm

“Am I the only one who is completely in the dark as to the point here?”

Socrates didn’t write anything, befuddled, any more than Jesus did.


befuddled 10.08.03 at 10:21 pm

Ah – I suppose I see then. I think that I took “volumes of Socrates” to mean something other than “Socrates’s volumes”, perhaps “volumes regarding Socrates”.


jack#2 10.10.03 at 4:10 am

Perchance we’re being spoofed? Within the ellipse in Chris’ quote, found in the original piece in the Guardian is this tidbit “and Aristotle and American social theory”. That is, while we may believe that Socrates wrote nothing, can we equally believe that there are no works of American social theory? Just the opposite, in my opinion, there are far too many.

But the discussion brings about two other minor issues – not generally worth discussion since they are, for the most part too obvious, and too insignificant – but that in this context seem to shed some light on the prior discussion on global warming (or lack thereof).

First, we do not KNOW that Socrates did not write anything. We accept that as fact in the absence of any works of Socrates to prove the opposite (opinion of third parties aside). In the same vein, Jesus may have written much, albeit under a pen name (or quill name if you will). Poetry, humor, plays, music. It’s all possible, but since we have seen none of it, or at least none under his name, we state Jesus did not write. That may be fact. It may not be reality.

That’s one of the fundamental differences between fact and reality. Reality is hard. Facts, on the other hand are pretty easy.

The second point is that we’re all too willing to accept statements of others as “fact”. Not to say that Chris was in any way lying, spoofing or misrepresenting the Guardian piece (whoops, I did use the word “spoof” in my opener, didn’t I. Sorry Chris). Just that the reference to volumes of Socrates in itself is humorous – based on fact. Yet, the discussion goes on without any concern for the original work or the text replaced by an ellipse. Simply put, we’re engaged in discussion of a discussion, not of the original quote, or its meaning.

What does all of this have to do with the prior piece on global warming? Simple. If S1 represents a state of the world misrepresented by those who want us to believe that global warming is real, and S2 represents a state misrepresented by those who want us to believe that global warming is a fantasy, and an event E occurs that is both consistent with S1 and with S2 but is more likely to be associated with the spin created by the S1 believers than the S2 believers, who, then, is better at fooling us? The S1 people or the S2 people? After all, they both have facts, and they both have those who will discuss their opinions at length.

Just like we have here.

I wonder what Socrates would have written about that?

Comments on this entry are closed.