“The only thing that I know is that I know nothing.” Socrates – Humility
Should we question what we are sure of?
Everyone thinks they know something, and we all question some things, but very few people question what they think they know. Socrates declared that he knows he knows nothing. If this is tying your mind in pretzels, just think about what you value more, confidence or humility.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts for an unforgettable conversation about humility that you can recreate in your classroom using the Teach Different 3-Step Method.
Image source: Wikimedia | Norto Mendez
Steve Fouts: 0:02
Hey everybody, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We are teaching different with Greek philosopher Socrates and his famous quote about humility. “The only thing that I know, is that I know nothing.” You’ve probably heard this quote before. We attribute this to Socrates and his approach to knowledge. What is that we think we know? How much confidence do we have in our knowledge, and how comfortable are we questioning it? What does that do to our certainty? How confident are we about what we think we know? What would you say is the claim of this famous quote?
Dan Fouts: 0:55 – Claim
He’s definitely on the side that we should question things in life and not claim that we know things. We know people who are “know it alls”. They come into a room, and talk and act as if everything they say is gospel. Those are the types of people I think Socrates is talking to. You have to maintain a level of humility and realize that you don’t have all the answers. A better way of living and communicating is acknowledging the fact that you don’t know things. With that approach you’ll be a better listener, and a better learner.
Steve Fouts: 1:40
When it comes to students, they’re at different levels of confidence. People react to confident people. They state and stipulate things, and rally the troops. They get a lot of followers. I’m trying to think of a good way to get the students to share their experiences with people who have confidence in their knowledge, versus people who are much more shy and humble?
Dan Fouts: 2:19
Maybe having students talk about a time when they we’re in a conversation, and the other person was coming off like they knew it all. Do you know anyone who thinks that they have all the answers to life’s questions? How do you handle people like that? I think talking about the types of people who they might be familiar with, is a good way to push this conversation along. You know that they’re going to have stories about people who think they have all the answers.
Steve Fouts: 2:59
I think that’s a good way to start, because most everyone knows a know it all. I think they also know the shy people and the people who don’t put themselves out front. Maybe the shy people are curious, questioning and listen more. Ask the students how they perceive the shy, quiet people. Do they respect them more than confident people and why?
Dan Fouts: 3:38
Some students assume the quiet types are ignorant and lack confidence. They don’t know anything. That’s a class dynamic all the time. The kids who are quiet, and ask questions are often perceived as not being intelligent. In a Socrates sort of way, maybe they’re just being humble with knowledge. Maybe hey’re expressing the best virtue.
Steve Fouts: 4:09
Let’s push back on Socrates. It is a famous quote, and I think a lot of people would agree that you should question yourself. You shouldn’t always think you know things. What’s the best counterclaim against this?
Dan Fouts: 4:26 – Counterclaim
You can’t walk around thinking that you know nothing. You have to be confident in certain things that you know and you have to share those things. Be confident so that other people will respect you and follow you. At a certain point, you’ve got to settle on answers, and have a sense of certainty in your life. Otherwise, you’re going to live an uncertain existence, and that’s not going to work. I would say that confidence in knowing is important would be the counterclaim.
Steve Fouts: 5:09
Yeah, that is something they can appreciate. Kids look up to confident students. Even teachers appreciate confidence from students. I have a crazy little experiment you could try during this conversation with the students. This is something I tried when I was teaching philosophy in college. I would put a chair in the front of the room, and I would ask all the students, do you know that this chair is here? Most kids are going to agree that the chair is there. It’s a way to critique this quote from Socrates. It isn’t true that you know nothing. There are some things that you do know, that we can agree on. You can’t let this questioning overtake you and make everything up for grabs. It’s just not realistic, and no one’s really going to believe it.
Dan Fouts: 6:22
Yeah, I think that’s a really good idea. Come up with some statements that everyone agrees are facts and are considered certain knowledge as a way to push back against Socrates. I think that would be a really good approach.
Steve Fouts: 6:42 – Essential Question
Another thing I like about approaching it in a simplistic way is that you are going to get one or two students who are going to challenge the existence of the chair, or the existence of something that everyone pretty much agrees is there. It’ll be a little philosophy lesson that the students are going to appreciate. I really do think that this quote from Socrates deals more with humility in people and the importance of asking questions, and not being so confident that you know things all the time. Here’s an essential question you can use to wrap up this conversation? Should we question what we are sure of? That essential question really gets to the heart of whether you should be humble, or whether you should be confident when you think you know something.
Dan Fouts: 7:46
Yeah, I like that question. There are a lot of different ways you can go with that one, because it really begs the other question of what are you sure of? Should we question what we’re sure of? When can you be certain and move forward? Do you live a life where you question everything? This can be applied to a lot of different settings.
Steve Fouts: 8:14
Right, and I really do think that the extremes are what the students will see. You probably don’t want to question every single thing, but you also don’t want to act like you’re sure of everything at all times. It’s the balance which is something that Aristotle, Plato’s student, and Socrates’ students would definitely agree on. It’s that balance that is necessary.
Dan Fouts: 8:44
It gets the kids thinking about what things in life they should question and be humble about not knowing the answer. What kind of things should I be confident in knowing the answers to. That is going to be with them for the rest of their life.
Steve Fouts: 8:58
There you go, and maybe they’ll get into college and become philosophy majors. Who knows?
We hope you enjoyed Socrates this week. Make sure you visit our Conversation Library where we have many conversations like this, each with a different quote, a sample claim, counterclaim, and an essential question to get you started.
Take care everybody.
Dan Fouts: 9:36
Alright. Take care.