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Students Visit Asia

The Socratic debate with a Chinese Scholar

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Last night was one that reminded me of the conversation in Plato's The Republic. My host father, Steven, is a professor at the college and stated that he loved talking about politics. We began with the opening question of how one could unify the world and bring everyone together, especially under a government. He proposed that the best way to establish harmony was if everyone gathered under one consciousness, forgoing personal preferences for the sake of the group. By everyone joining the political consciousness and taking the time to examine all aspects of a situation before reaching a conclusion then we could achieve world harmony. I, however, advocated that a form of personal identity and opinion was necessary (if on a small scale) for happiness to still exist within such a system. Using American promoted values, I explained how personal identity and expression gave a person pride, strength, and confidence behind their work. He agreed that the American values should be incorporated into the system because such democratic values were better than most current systems, but he still maintained that the collective consciousness was the most important since it could most effectively assign justice. Which brings us to the Socratic part of the debate. I asked him how justice could be dealt out since it is hard to measure and there is no agreed consensus about the appropriate universal laws. Steven explained that the only way was to create a universal law that prevented harm to others and if harm was placed on a person, then physical punishment would correct such crimes. I immediately disagreed since crime can be interpreted differently and there is always more than physical damage associated with a crime. Damage such as psychological damage cannot be as easily measured but also is a consequence of crime. In order to establish equilibrium, the emotional trauma must also be addressed. Throughout the conversation we debated these principles, occasionally adding in real world examples from the US, China, Japan, Greece, Germany, and other countries. As the debate progressed, it was interesting to see the incorporation of principles from our backgrounds forming our arguments. Steven emphasized the establishment of community, something I've noticed reoccur in conversations with some of the people here. Meanwhile, Steven noted my western influence from the US. Eventually the debate came to an abrupt close as Ashley fell asleep during the Steven and I's debate. We never fully came to a resolution to the discussion, but it was certainly a debate that intertwined both our cultures.

Lauren VanHook


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