Home truths about philosophy

Edward Skidelsky (Letters, 10 April) is now arguing about the proper intention (not, as he writes, " function" ) of philosophy. He argues that, whereas the therapeutic tradition intends to reduce suffering by eradicating false beliefs, Socrates intends the eradication of false beliefs as "something desirable in itself". But if, like Socrates, I intend to cure false beliefs and know that such a cure will result in a reduction of suffering, then I also intend to reduce suffering. The intentions are the same.

The Hellenists were not in the business of weaving comfort blankets for the mind, as Skidelsky's phrase "mental tranquillity" implies. They well knew that truth does not entail happiness, but argued that tranquil ignorance causes more invidious suffering than painful knowledge. I do not think Skidelsky and I really disagree that the aim of all philosophy is truth.

Steven Poole
London N1

This article first appeared in the 17 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The rise of the ergonarchy