Oberlin Blogs

A Socratic Dialogue on the Fall Semester

January 5, 2024

Naci Konar-Steenberg '26

Note: The Socratic dialogues are a series of literary works compiled by Plato, Socrates’ student. They’re essentially two-person plays in which some sort of philosophical question is debated, and I first read them in an Oberlin class. I thought it would be interesting to see Socrates and Plato debating a different sort of philosophical question – instead of ‘how can we have the best lives possible?’, ‘how can we have the best college experiences possible?’ With that out of the way…

Dramatis Personae:

PLATO, an Oberlin student who has had a busy fall semester

SOCRATES, his friend


(A phone rings.)

SOCRATES (picking up): Hello?

PLATO: Socrates? How are you?

SOCRATES: I’m good. I just got back to campus for Winter Term. It was a long flight, but I didn’t really mind. How about you? You’re going to be on campus for Winter Term, right?

PLATO: Yeah. I got a professor to sign off on my geometry independent project.

SOCRATES: Are you driving here right now? Are the roads snowy in Georgia at all?

PLATO: Yes, I’m on my way to Oberlin. And no, Athens hasn’t seen a single snowflake.

SOCRATES: Really? How do you know that no snow has fallen?

PLATO: (laughs) You took two philosophy classes and now you’re insufferable.

SOCRATES: I was insufferable before, too.


PLATO: So I stopped at a gas station in Tennessee. And I was talking to the attendant at the counter, and I guess she figured out that I’m a college student, because she asked me what I’m majoring in. And I told her what I tell everybody, which is–

SOCRATES: Politics or philosophy, or law and society, or comparative literature, but, of course, you don’t know yet.

PLATO: Exactly. And she tells me, “it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate.”

SOCRATES: Right. Because you do.

PLATO: Right. Last semester was the most insane three months of my entire life. So I kind of nod. She tells me to not burn myself out, I pay for my chips, and I leave. And then I spend the next five hundred miles thinking about what she said.


SOCRATES: If you’re worried about–

PLATO: Yeah, I know I spend too much time thinking and worrying about things.

SOCRATES: I wasn’t going to judge you for worrying about if you’re doing too much. You know what they say. “The unexamined life…” and all that.

PLATO: I just…


SOCRATES: Well, what did you do this semester? If you want to try to give yourself an easier schedule, you’re going to have to get rid of something.

PLATO: What did I do besides my classes? Um, I took secondary harp lessons. 

SOCRATES: That sounds fun! I didn’t know Oberlin offered that. Did you enjoy doing that?

PLATO: Yeah, but I wasn’t very good at it. I just want to learn an instrument while I’m here, you know?

SOCRATES: Right. What else did you do?

PLATO: I was in a musical… I did debate and moot court, and I did ultimate Frisbee.

SOCRATES: Okay… Do any of those things stand out to you as things you didn’t like doing?

PLATO: Not really. I didn’t expect to like Frisbee, but things changed.

SOCRATES: Well then. You’re a classic liberal arts student. You’re interested in basically everything.

PLATO: I guess that’s true. You know, back when I came to Oberlin, after I met a few people, I realized that everyone sorta has a reason they’re here. Some people are really interested in something specific. Like playing the harp, or, um…

SOCRATES: Or doing philosophy.

PLATO: Right. Exactly. But some people are just interested in everything. I mean, not literally everything–

SOCRATES: I remember what you thought about your Latin class last year.

PLATO: Yeah, memorizing all those tenses and declensions, all to be able to read a few ancient philosophical texts? I’d rather learn a language I can actually use.


PLATO: But I feel like everyone here is excited about learning things, whatever their major is, or whatever they plan to do after college. And I’m excited about learning new things.

SOCRATES: Of course you are.

PLATO: But I guess the question is – how busy is too busy? How much is too much?


SOCRATES: Oh, wait a minute.

PLATO: What?

SOCRATES: “How busy is too busy?” “How much is too much?” I get it. You want me to do some philosophy for you.

PLATO: Oh, don’t get started.

SOCRATES: Come on. I’ll ask you questions until we find a question you don’t know the answer to. It’ll be fun.

PLATO: Socrates, not now.

SOCRATES: Oh, please. What is college without deeply philosophical midnight phone calls?

PLATO: …Fine.

SOCRATES: Thank you. It seems like you’re mainly worried about what you’re going to do with your time here.

PLATO: Right. I want to have the best possible college experience.

SOCRATES: Great. What does that mean?

PLATO: What do you mean?

SOCRATES: What has made your college experience better?

PLATO: I… don’t know.

SOCRATES: Voila. A question you can’t answer. That was fast. Come on. You don’t need to know the right answer. Just give me something to go off of.

PLATO: I guess… I think I want to learn as much as I can, and have fun while doing it.


PLATO: That’s all anyone really wants to do in college, anyway.

SOCRATES: Great. Now, let me ask you this: what do you do with your free time?

PLATO: When I have free time? Um, I don’t know. I hang out with you and Aristotle and Epicurus and everyone else.

SOCRATES: What do we do when we hang out?

PLATO: All sorts of things. We go to shows, restaurants, Aristotle’s lute recitals… Mostly we just talk.

SOCRATES: And do you enjoy doing that?

PLATO: Of course I do. It’s the highlight of my week.

SOCRATES: So if you didn’t have time to hang out with us, would it make your time at Oberlin better or worse?

PLATO: Definitely worse. 

SOCRATES: Well, there you have it.

PLATO: What?

SOCRATES: That’s your answer. When you have free time, do you spend it all trying to figure out what to spend the rest of your time on?

PLATO: Sometimes, to be honest.

SOCRATES: Well, you don’t need to worry. You're plenty busy. You're certainly not wasting your time.

PLATO: Then if–

SOCRATES: And don’t be worried about wasting time. You’re in college; you don’t know what you’re going to major in; you have all the time in the world ahead of you. Here’s the upshot: spending time doing whatever you want is important. It’s part of “being excited about learning.” It’s part of “the college experience,” whatever that means.


PLATO: Thank you, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Hope I could help.

PLATO: Well, I do need to start driving again. I want to make it to Oberlin before it gets too late.

SOCRATES: I’ll see you tomorrow then.

PLATO: (sighs) And I still need to submit my forms for Winter Term.

SOCRATES: Ha. “Plato’s Forms.”

PLATO: Huh? What are you on about?

SOCRATES: You could call them Platonic Forms.

PLATO: What do you mean?

SOCRATES: Oh, nothing. See you soon.

PLATO: All right. Good night.

Similar Blog Entries