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Neither Socrates nor Descartes believe philosophy can be taught. ‘True or false? Discuss. Can morality (or virtue) be learned from others? How can self examination lead to philosophic clarity?


Knowledge is the most regarded branch of philosophy that many scholars take much interest in more than any other. There are different philosophical theories such as the correspondence, pragmatic and coherent theory that try to explain the actual meaning of knowledge. According to Plato, knowledge is the true and justified forms of belief.  Socrates, a leading classical, contributed much to the understanding of philosophy.  Socrates, Greek philosopher born in 470 B.C, attempted to define a good life for Western philosophy against his critics Descartes who disagreed with his (Socrates) works all through. The conflicting works of these two influential philosophers as to whether philosophy could be taught or not raised a lot of questions and sharp differences among their respective students. The aim of this essay is to discuss whether philosophy or morality could be taught and learnt in various contexts.

As provided in his dialogues, Plato believes that teaching philosophy is a matter of just asking questions on the respective subject matter. Additionally, the widely held belief by Plato that virtues can also be taught raises some questions to Socrates though. On the other hand, Socrates is strongly convicted that virtues cannot be taught whatsoever. He further advanced various explanations in defense of his belief that knowledge and philosophy cannot be taught since they develop from virtues. Socrates goes on to add that virtues cannot be fully learned from others based on the understanding that some virtues are common in all human beings. Similarly, Socrates maintains that the aspects of virtue are not determined by one’s gender or age.

The general argument of Socrates is that we must be in a position to understand ourselves and practice self-control. It is therefore clear that one’s thinking should not be influenced by any external factors. On this basis, virtues cannot be learned but developed from constant self-examination of the mind though Descartes believes otherwise. This confirms the view of the latter that virtues could only be intrinsically acquired since different people have different virtues. At the bottom line of this argument, philosophy cannot be taught since it is all about knowledge and virtues which could not be learned hence external factors cannot help in their acquisition.

Self examination is the only way through which one can know the true meaning of virtue given that external factors cannot adequately answer this question. If we could all be having similar traits and knowledge, then there is no need of self examination. Virtues differ from one person to another therefore so we should research wide to clarify one's philosophical stand.

According to Socrates, philosophy cannot be taught because it is a prerequisite of virtue and knowledge which can only be acquired intrinsically through self-evaluation.

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