Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

After failing to lay a glove on David Cameron in his pre-election interview, the professional personality Jeremy Paxman is said to have called him a 'smooth bastard', an admission of failure if ever there was one.

Paxman's problem is that, being merely an interviewer, he is master of none of the technical problems on which he was challenging the Tory leader. It is a subject on which Socrates was eloquent. A principle that lies at the heart of Socratic thinking is that the precision with which one can describe the technical knowledge required in the practical business of pottery or carpentry should be applicable to talking about moral conduct too. So, we know precisely what goes into a good shoe and how it is made: what precisely goes into a good man, and how is he made?

In one dialogue he subjects the working of the Athenian Assembly to this style of analysis. When it dealt with technical matters, he says, the Assembly summoned technicians: building problems required builders, shipbuilding shipwrights, and so on; 'and if anyone whom they do not regard as an expert tries to give them advice, they will have nothing to do with him, but will shout him down until he either gives up of his own accord or is dragged away by officials'. …

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