Is This a Sandwich?
Teaching the Platonic Dialogues through sandwiches, by Dr. M. Ritchey, PhD
I met Mike 15 years ago, when he moved to Portland after getting kicked out of the army due to his relentless pushing at the logic of all rules (something the army generally frowns upon). This characteristic, so foundational to Mike’s character, has been irritating his friends ever since.
One of the most infamous ways Mike’s logic-pushing tendency has manifested in recent years can be seen in his insistence on hectoring everyone he knows into fighting with him about what objective qualities can be said to constitute “a sandwich.” This conversational maneuver has effectively ruined many convivial lunchtimes and splintered several friendships, but after getting sucked into it many times against my will (once while trying to plan my wedding), I suddenly realized that the “sandwich debate” is actually not only meaningful, but its deft deployment can even teach valuable citizenship skills that, if understood by a majority of the population, would make our world a better place.
The Platonic Dialogues
I had this realization after teaching the Platonic Dialogues to a class of college freshmen. A quick explanation for the uninitiated: Plato, the great philosopher and mathematician who lived in Athens around 500 BC, was also the most prominent student of Socrates, whose ideas and style of dialogue he recorded for posterity, for example in his aptly-named “Dialogues.” The Dialogues are short works in which Plato recreates various conversations Socrates had (or might have had), including his statements at his own trial and a conversation he had with another student, Crito, on the eve of his execution, in which he invents the idea of the social contract. It is in the Dialogues that we get the detailed descriptions of the “socratic method” he apparently employed to irritate his countrymen to such a degree that they finally used the power of the State to have him killed. The socratic method is deceptively simple: it’s a dialectical method entailing the relentless questioning of your interlocutor in order to critically…