Socratic Method – What Is Empathy?

My second post. I’m back so soon…


I wrote this piece a while back but wanted to put it up here as soon as possible to see what reactions I get. This is basically using elenchus, which is the method of logical refutation to draw a conclusion. It’s what I discussed in the intro of my intro blog. (If you missed it, just click here!)

What is interesting about this method is that it really reminds me of when I was a child asking my father all sorts of questions about life and the meaning of things. I really enjoy writing dialogues as I feel, for me at least, that dialogues help me find truths on my own, when no one is around and can help me answer my questions. Through trial and error, thesis and anti-thesis, I can better help myself draw a concrete conclusion to what I’m understanding.

That being said, you can thank Plato for introducing this method to the world of rhetoric.


I swear one of those is Slavoj Žižek…

So the dialogue is between a child and their parent. Read through it and let me know what you think!

– – –

Child: What is empathy?

Parent: Empathy is the ability to understand how someone thinks or feels. In such a way that you can actually see yourself in their shoes.

Child: But how can we get that ability to understand how someone thinks or feels?

Parent: Well, I think that because we can feel the need to understand how they feel because we want someone else to do the same for us. So because we want people to do the same for us, we do it for others.

Child: So if I understand how someone thinks and feels people will understand how I think and feel?

Parent: No, not really. The thing is, they don’t have to if they don’t want to. We all have the ability to understand others, but we don’t all want the responsibility of understanding others.

Child: But why is it a responsibility?

Parent: Because not everyone has to do it! And if not everyone has to do it, the ones that do it unintendedly receive a responsibility to understand others.

Child: But why do we have to think about how others feel? Can’t we just do what we feel like?

Parent: Well, yes of course you can do what you feel like, but if everyone just did what we felt like the world would be a dangerous place.

Child: But why? If I could do what I like, I would never hurt anyone.

Parent: But someone might want to hurt you, and if you can do what you like, he can do what he likes, so that means he can hurt you.

Child: But then I could hurt him though, if he can hurt me.

Parent: Yes, but like I said, the world would be a dangerous place then.

Child: So then what makes us from not just doing what we want?

Parent: Well a lot of things help. We have law to help and we have morals that help with that.

Child: What are laws and morals?

Parent: Well laws and morals are like rules. Laws are written rules that we have to follow and morals are like laws but for how we should think.

Child: So then should morals be laws?

Parent: Well a lot of people think so, but the problem is that morals are just what people feel. So that is why it so important to understand how people feel. If you can do that, you can understand how they think and if you can understand how they think you can make a better judgment of their actions.

Child: But what is the point of making a better judgment of their actions, what is the point?

Parent: Well you ask what is the point, but that is how we established Law and the society that we live in today.

Child: What do you mean?

Parent: If two people met each other and had to decide what was best for both of them, but they both did what they felt was best for them without regard of the other, they would end up conflicting with each other because one will eventually do something or take something that the other wanted to do or have. So by talking to one another and understanding one another they can make laws on how someone should act when things like this happen.

Child: But why?

Parent: Why what.

Child: Why do we have to be nice and understand each other, I would so rather just take over the world with my powers?

Parent: *Sigh* Yeah me too, but I want to live comfortably and if I just take things over by force, I’m always going to have to be afraid that someone is going to try to kill me. And that is really what happens in nature. Animals are always so afraid that things are going to kill them that they don’t have time to relax and enjoy life.

Child: Yeah, but we are not animals. We can think and relax and enjoy life whenever we want.

Parent: Could you really relax and enjoy life when you think that everyone is trying to kill you?

Child: Hmm, I guess not. I would be so scared of everything that I would just want to be alone.

Parent: So then would it not be better for you and the other person to come to terms with each other and make laws?

Child: Yeah, I guess so. But then who gets to make those laws?

Parent: That would be up to the government. So the people who are put in power to make laws that fit the whole of the people they govern.

Child: So the government is like when two people come together and make rules to how they should treat each other?

Parent: In a sense yeah, but what the government does is that it makes sure that other people follow those same rules and that everyone can live comfortably together.

Child: But then why do people still fight?

Parent: I would want to ask you that then. Why do you and your brother fight?

Child: Because he does something that I don’t like and then I don’t do something he doesn’t like. But I don’t hit him, I just yell at him.

Parent: Okay, one, you’re lying, I’ve seen you guys fighting; and two, exactly that’s why I am the government in this house. I am the mini government that makes the laws.

Child: Okay but I mean we are family, so I would never try to kill him.

Parent: There are people in this world that would hurt even their own family and if there was no law, they would. So it’s good that we have laws, it helps us maintain our lives.

Child: But I still don’t understand, why do people fight?

Parent: What do you mean?

Child: Like why do people wage wars on each other?

Parent: Well there is no simple answer to that now is there…People wage wars on each other because they feel the need to or else their way of life is threatened. If they didn’t feel threatened they wouldn’t wage war.

Child: But what or who are they threatened by?

Parent: I guess you could say they are threatened by other people. Doesn’t matter the reason, because the reason could literally be anything. So just because they are threatened by someone they wage war.

Child: But that makes no sense, they shouldn’t be able to just wage war because they don’t like someone else.

Parent: What makes you say that? What is your justification?

Child: Because it’s not right!

Parent: But what makes it not right? Why would waging a war just because you don’t like someone be wrong?!

Child: I don’t know!

Parent: Because it’s dangerous, because it contributes to having it happen to you. You wouldn’t want someone to randomly wage war on you just because they don’t like you, right?

Child: Yeah.

Parent: So then if we agree that because waging war on other people is wrong because it’s dangerous for everyone, couldn’t we say other things are wrong because it’s dangerous for everyone? So then that becomes Law.

Child: Oh. Well what about smoking then? We know that it’s dangerous for everyone, so why is smoking not stopped by law?

Parent: Ah, yes, this falls under a special category. We have to look at why people like to smoke so much. Because it makes life comfortable, and what was the role of the government?

Child: To make life comfortable together.

Parent: Right. So if smoking makes life comfortable for the people that smoke, the government cannot take that away, or it contradicts itself.

Child: So is that why guns are not banned?

Parent: Exactly. Because the governments job is to ensure the comfort of their citizens, and because gun owners feel comfortable when they have guns, the government cannot ban it.

Child: But so many guns hurt people and cause so many accidental deaths.

Parent: But so do cars and alcohol, but those things are legal. The reason is because they make life comfortable for the people that want to use them. So how can the government take away the right to use them by law?

Child: But alcohol is also really dangerous, like one of my class friends, his dad has a drinking problem and is now in the hospital.

Parent: Yeah…I know which friend’s dad…Anyways, yeah, alcohol is dangerous but the government tried to ban it in 1920 and it failed miserably. All it did was create gangs and underground bars which everyone rich and poor went to. Because people liked alcohol so much they were willing to outweigh the bad parts for the good.

Child: So then why are other drugs illegal?

Parent: That’s a good question. If we think like this, other drugs should be legal than right?

Child: Yeah, like meth and cocaine!

Parent: Well, I guess. But legal in the sense that they should be regulated. As in if someone wants to use meth they have to use it safely and not too much. This is why we regulate alcohol and put “Please drink responsibly”.

Child: Ahhh, so that’s why empathy is like a responsibility?

Parent: Yeah, empathy is a responsibility, just like how using alcohol, which is a drug, owning a gun, driving a car, smoking cigarettes, is a responsibility.

Child: So then, empathy if it was made into a law, would force people to think about others?

Parent: Yeah, it would. But how do you think we do that?

Child: Well we would have to make it into a law. A law that makes people have to talk to one another and understand each other and never wage war.

Parent: Precisely, and we would then have to make it a universal law because if it’s good for us, it has to be good for everyone.

Child: Right, so then everyone in the world should follow this law so that we could all make laws and understand one another.

Parent: Exactly! If there was a law that made people not be able to wage war on each other just because they don’t like them, and this law was universal then it would fit perfectly within the lines of a governments job! People’s lives would be much more comfortable and the world would be a safer place where people could live to think and not be scared of dying.

Child: But how can this happen? What is the law for empathy?

Parent: I guess it would be like a “golden rule” in which everyone must follow. Everyone has to use empathy, or their ability to understand each other, by law, and use that to make other ideas. That way if someone wanted to wage war on someone, we would all know that he is not following the law because a law means that everyone has to follow it.

Child: So then what do we do about law breakers?

Parent: Well we would have to imprison them or in the case of them waging war, we would have to wage war against them to defend ourselves.

Child: But didn’t we just establish that we would never wage war against anyone?

Parent: We did, but we are not waging war, we are waging protection, or at least we have a justification for our actions, while by law they do not have any justification.

Child: But the only way we could have this, is if we had a “golden rule” right?

Parent: Right. Without this “golden rule” people could make up any justifications to wage war and their justifications would be lawful because there is no law preventing it. Just like how there is no law preventing drinking, because there are justifications in which make sense.

Child: But I thought that drinking was supposed to be okay because it makes people comfortable and people like it?

Parent: Yeah, but it only comes after the “golden rule”. Because we see the perspective of so many people we have made an agreement to outweigh the comfort to the downfalls.

Child: So then why is war possible? People don’t come out and say, “War is good, war should be done!”

Parent: But they do, and they have in history. ISIS wages war on the Western world because their God says so, President Bush waged war on Iraq in 2003. Germany waged war on the rest of Europe during WWII. People have always found justifications to wage war. All because there is no “golden rule” preventing them from creating realistic justifications.

Child: But what are realistic justifications?

Parent: Realistic justifications are justifications that follow realistic reasoning. Like alcohol for example. Under the “golden rule” we have to look at all perspectives on alcohol, sort’ve like a representational government.

Child: What is a representational government?

Parent: It’s basically a style of government in which people elect certain people to represent their point of view.

Child: So then what is the difference between a representational government and the “golden rule” of empathy?

Parent: Good point, the structure of the “golden rule” and a representational government is the same! Just as how the “golden rule” makes you think about how others think, a representational government also makes you think about how others think.

Child: So what is the difference?

Parent: The difference would be then that a government, being made up of people, can always become bad or corrupt, while the “golden rule” always remains incorruptible. For example, when prohibition happened, it was because lobbyist and politicians pushed the problem to the government, even though it wasn’t really what the people wanted. Only if politicians, who are just people we elect, were made by law to follow a strict code, could we stop corruption from happening in the government.

Child: But politicians do that today, no? They promise the people that they are going to do what they want, but then once they get into office they do completely the opposite or something different?

Parent: Yes, that is because there is no enforcement of this code because it is not a law. If it were a law, then politicians and the like, would have to submit for punishment.

Child: So if the “golden rule” was a physically enforced law, then politicians would not become corrupt?

Parent: Yes, because why would they want to be punished? Being punished makes you uncomfortable. And anyways it should be the job of the government to ensure the comfort and safety of its citizens. That is why we allow them to rule us, because we trust them to ensure our comforts and safety.

Child: But a lot of people do not trust the government, why?

Parent: Because like I said before, the government is above the law because they create the law and enforce the law, so if they become corrupt, as they have in the past, who is managing them? That is why so many people distrust their governments, because they know there is nothing keeping them in check.

Child: So how do you get people to trust you?

Parent: Simple, ensure the comforts and safety of your people and the people will trust you.

Child: But isn’t that what the government is doing today? Why are people still upset? We are not in danger every day and we have a lot of comforts in our lives. Why do people get upset?

Parent: Well, the government has given us comfort and safety, but at what cost? Because governments think so single-minded, as in only for their own country, every action made is for the benefit of themselves. Imagine that instead of a country, a country is a person. So if two countries meet each other, they start to want to benefit themselves more than the other. But this causes problems, just as how when two people meet in order to make a civilization, the same is with countries. If countries followed the “golden rule” they would be forced to look at how other countries thought, and then have to make an agreement with other countries. In that sense the “golden rule” would be the world’s representational government.

Child: Wow, so then if one country wages war on another country, every country knows that its wrong.

Parent: Right, and if waging a war on another country just because you don’t like them or something they are doing is wrong, then no one can ever wage war on anyone because war always contradicts comfort and security.

Child: So if no one can wage war, that means peace?

Parent: Yes! That would mean world peace!

Child: But then what about if someone all of the sudden becomes crazy and manages to get people to wage war on someone. What do we do?

Parent: Well seeing as how the world agrees that waging war is not right, I would think that the whole world would fight against this someone and who can beat the whole world?

Child: I guess you’re right, if the whole world thought this way, no one could ever even try to wage war, because we would punish them so hard and so fast.

Parent: That is the whole idea!

– – –

I realize that a lot of my arguments are not concrete, but I was really trying to emulate a child and parent relationship as in trying to minimize terms and maximize understanding. The main points that I wanted to illuminate in this piece are universalization, law, equality, empathy, and understanding. If you understood those points, then I am really happy because that means my shit actually made sense. But if you didn’t, leave me a comment, I’d love to improve my arguments!


Thanks for reading! 


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