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Monday, September 4, 2006

The Triple Filter Test

In ancient Greece (469 - 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom.

One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance that ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students called Plato?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test".

"Triple filter?"

"That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to filter what you're going to say.

The first Filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and..."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not.

Now let's try the second filter, the Filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you're not certain it's true?" The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued. "You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter - the Filter of usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really..."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good, nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?" The man was defeated and ashamed.

This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.


Suresh said...

Well Socrates wasn’t exactly popular for this I suppose, if he was I’ll be really surprised :p.
I don’t know about this story’s authenticity, but I’ll deconstruct it though.

The filters’ fundamental problem lies in that Socrates trusts the other person’s judgment more than once.

1. You cannot always be sure if what you hear is true. Not every circumstance gives you the chance for verification.
2. He probably didn’t verify because of the fact that it’s ‘bad’ (say he thinks the student stole something; you cannot ask the student if he/she stole it. Even if you did ask, you cannot be sure if he/she is telling you the truth. It’s both bad and unverifiable)
3. Socrates let’s the student decide if the news is going to be useful for him? I think that’s most problematic of all. What’s useful for you, especially if you’re an adult, should be decided by you (whenever possible).

Let’s put all three filters in perspective, with respect to the example we have.

Student A thinks fellow student B stole a trinket. A wants to check B’s closet but only the teacher, in this case Socrates, has the authority to do that. So he approaches Socrates to only to get snubbed by his ‘3 filters’ logic. Now he’s both embarrassed and robbed?

As much as I respect Socrates, if I were student A I would have embarrassed Socrates by pointing to the fallacies in his argument and got my trinket back (if my initial assumption was right).

On first look this story seems pretty valid, but you dissect it, you see the generalizations and faults in the generalizations.

Priya said...


Yep, that's true. Wow, i don't have such analytical mind like you have. Maybe i should learn. Anyway, yes i did think about the generalizations made in the conversation. Thank you for your 2 cents!


Suresh said...

haha nah, I don't have an analytical mind or anything, that's probably a "positive" way of calling it :p. People say that I always to find faults with everything I see, may be that's what it is.

Priya said...

Well, that trait of yours might be quite irritating sometimes but there's nothing wrong with it. You might want to express your criticisms in a way that does not sound offending. Because a lot of people are not like you. They might be easily offended by your frankness.

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