To Be a Happy Hog or a Suffering Socrates?

17, 2023

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During the weekend, Westlake undergraduates regularly gather in their college dorms to engage in debates. Recently these debates have been particularly noteworthy due to the input from the AI language application ChatGPT. During preparation, some students asked it to give answers for both sides of any particular debate.

Freshman Yuanshi Wang had a question for ChatGPT: Is it better to be a happy hog or a suffering Socrates? Put another way, is ignorance better than painful truth? This is a question he had been struggling with recently. In his opinion, Socrates is a figure representing thinking but also tragedy. "Knowing too much will cause pain and entanglement," said Wang, observing Socrates’ ultimate fate was death due to his knowledge and teachings.

The question sparked much lively debate among Wang’s fellow classmates. Indeed, the debating itself recalled Platonic scenes of Socrates dressed in rags on the streets of Athens debating with people. Some challenged the premise, arguing that a Socratic figure is not necessarily suffering pain or misery. One student asked, “If a person facing a death sentence who refuses to ask for a pardon drinks poisoned wine and dies, is he really suffering in his heart?”

Wang chose to stand on the side of the "happy hog". He began by describing happiness and pain. Happiness does not mean the sensory pleasure of eating and drinking but rather the "inner happiness" described by Zhuangzi. Pain is undesirable, he said. Quoting Yu Hua’s words that “pain itself has no value”, Yuanshi called pain a meaningless self-conflict.

On the opposite side, Qile Jin quoted the words of the famous modern Chinese author Lu Xun: "Suffering penetrates the depths of the soul, but it also provides the light for its elimination.” He said thinking is inevitably painful, but is the key to greater happiness.

Several Westlake University teachers were there for these discussions. Dr. Xinfeng Quan quoted Hume's theory, “Everyone should pay attention to the difference between should be and really be." Yu Pan said, "I see Socrates as being very happy. No one was able to argue with him on the streets of Athens, adding that by debating themselves, the students had shown their preference to be Socrates.

The informal discussions after the event went for as long as the formal debate itself, and even the timekeeper and fellow audience members joined in. For a while, the debate between the pros and cons turned into a "multi-party" debate. The smiling teachers present observed that learning to think independently through this form of dialogue is more important that debating skills themselves.

Driven by curiosity, Yuanshi Wang decided to ask ChatGPT for its view during the debate. It replied that as a form of artificial intelligence it has no feelings and as such cannot choose between the two. “Only humans have will and can make this choice.”



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To Be a Happy Hog or a Suffering Socrates?