by Yule Heibel on May 16, 2003

Apropos of my post on May 12, where I admitted to being ignorant of Dostoyevsky’s work, I think I might have to pick up the Grand Inquisitor after all. My children’s social studies curriculum (courtesy of S.I.D.E.S. — a great place!) asks them to find information “from books and/or the Internet, [to] discover what Socrates’ ‘crime’ was. Then, in a few paragraphs, write a speech in defense of Socrates that could have been given at his trial.” Since my own recollection of Socrates’ crime wasn’t clear enough (something about corrupting youth, etc.), I did some Internet research and found an interesting paper by Lee Honeycutt about Mikhail Bakhtin, whose writings about Dostoyevsky I read years ago (again proving Adorno’s point about the pitfalls of Halbbildung or semi-education, which might also lead one to Italo Calvino’s Why Read the Classics?). Honeycutt writes that “the dialogic tradition which reached its pinnacle in Dostoyevsky sprang directly from the Socratic dialogues, which he [Bakhtin] felt had begun ‘almost as a memoir genre’ or a recollection of conversations with Socrates.” A direct quote from Bakhtin follows:

At the base of the genre lies the Socratic notion of the dialogic nature of truth, and the dialogic nature of human thinking about truth. The dialogic means of seeking truth is counterposed to official monologism, which pretends to possess a ready-made truth, and it is also counterposed to the naive self-confidence of those people who think that they know something, that is, who think that they possess certain truths. Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person; it is born between people collectively searching for the truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction. Socrates called himself a ‘pander’: he brought people together and made them collide in quarrel, and as a result truth was born; with respect to this emerging truth Socrates called himself a ‘midwife,’ since he assisted at the birth…..

Honeycutt then adds, “This Socratic emphasis on the dialogic nature of inquiry eventually weakened under Plato’s influence, when it ‘degenerated completely into a question-and-answer form for training neophytes (catechism)’.”

Well, that does it, I have to overcome my aversion to 19th century literature (further admission: Henry James’s manner of conveying the dramas of his bourgeois characters puts me to sleep) and finally read Dostoyevsky. My Halbbildung will be a hybrid plant and well-branched out.


Goyo May 17, 2003 at 4:26 pm


I know a fascinating Roman Catholic priest, of all people, Father Jack
Sproule, at Our Lady of the Assumption at Brentwood and St. Elizabeth
of Hungary at Sidney who seems to be one of your Socratic dialogicians.
Strange to think of this man, about to retire, who only recently admitted
to me that he didn’t think any one person could know the whole Truth.
Actually, that shocked me because I thought that as a priest he would
try to maintain that Christ, surely, would be the only person to have ever
attained that capacity.
But he didn’t say anything about Christ and the Truth (or the catechism, for that matter).
I like the Socratic method of discourse, and found that we used it a lot in
so-called Oxford-stylke tutorials at the Saint Ignatius Institute at the Universidty
of San Francisco, California where I studied undergraduate philosophy and
Roman Catholic theology.
Many of the Jesuits and other lay professors at the SII seem to have been indebted
to the Socratic dialogical method, and also brought their love of Aristotle into their own philosophic discourse, as all good neo-Thomists must learn to do.
Most of them were neo-Thomists of the Jacques Maritain school.
I have been deeply influenced by all this reactionary stuff, having given up on Nietsche, Heideger, Sartre, Foucault, et al. as dead ends…


Gregory Hartnell


Yule Heibel May 17, 2003 at 4:43 pm

Hmm, so is there a Dostoyevsky book you’d recommend? I think I’ll start with Grand Inquisitor, but I’m open to suggestions!

Goyo May 17, 2003 at 10:32 pm


I don’t know Fyodor.
But I’ll try to get a copy…
We can start our own artist’s book club…



Yule Heibel May 18, 2003 at 12:53 am

Ok! I’m game for that !

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