Karen Armstrong's Three Socratic Question to Ask

The men in the mosaic are engaged in a scholarly dispute.  Three men look at another diadem-wearing man on the far left, who seems to be reading a scroll that the mosaic artist was unable to represent.  Two other men follow a third  figure pointing to a globe in the center.   All of the first group hold scrolls.  Moreover, the figure on the far left is standing next to an opened box in which the scrolls would fit.  None of the second group hold scrolls.  Written texts thus seem to be an important aspect of the men’s oral dispute.

The Socratic Method as currently understood is associated with oral questions and responses.  The mosaic suggests that, perhaps as early as the late-fourth century BGC, studying texts was an important, and perhaps controversial, aspect of oral school teaching.  The Socratic Method that Plato institutionalized in his Academy apparently co-existed with social, textual study.

Karen Armstrong has provided us with a way to address the conflict dominating the world and the news: 

How do we apply the Golden Rule, which requires us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict this pain on anybody else, to the violence in Libya and Cairo? Remember that Socrates, founder of the Western rational tradition, insisted that we stringently question every single one of our certainties and received opinions. Confucius said: “Use your own feelings as a guide to your treatment of others.”


  1. What do you feel when you see your own sacred traditions, your heroes, your national symbols, your flags, embassies and their personnel attacked and insulted?
  2. And how do you carry that through to your assessment of the “other side” of this conflict?
  3. Try to put yourself in the position of the “other side” ~ as the compassionate ethos demands ~ and ask yourself “How much do I really know about their history of pain, achievement, oppression, disappointment, fear, idealism, and aspiration ~ all of which, on both sides, have contributed to this violence?


If you find, in answer to question 3, that your know very little, then try to inhabit that doubt. As Socrates says, when you realize how little you know, you have become a philosopher! See Step 7 of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

~Karen Armstrong