June 5, 2021
Socrates (470 – 399 BC) was a Greek philosopher credited as one of the founders of western and moral philosophy. There is an interesting anecdotal story of “Three Filters” attributed to him.
Once a friend of Socrates went across to him all excited and said, ” Socrates, do you know what I just heard about your friend Diogenes?”
Socrates put his hand up. “Wait a moment. Diogenes is not with us right now. So, before you tell me anything, I want to put what you have to share through my Three Filter test.”
Taken aback, the friend asked-‘Three Filter test?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Socrates continued, “Before you tell me anything about Diogenes, I want to put what you are going to say through some three tests. Let me start with the First Filter Test of Truth. Whatever you want to say about Diogenes, have you validated it to be true?”
The friend was stumped- “No,” he said, “Actually, I heard about it from another friend.”
“Okay. It fails my first filter. So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. No problem. Let’s see if it passes my Second Filter Test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about Diogenes something positive and good?” asked Socrates.
“Actually, it’s not anything positive……In fact, it’s negative,” the friend admitted truthfully.
“Hmm….,” Socrates continued, “So, you want to tell me something about Diogenes that may be negative, and you are not even certain it’s true because you heard it from someone else?”
The friend by now was feeling very embarrassed. But Socrates was not done yet, “It okay. Let’s see if what you have to say will pass my third Test, the Filter Of Usefulness. Is what you are about to tell me going to be useful for me?”
By now, this line of questioning by Socrates had the friend well and truly stumped. He wearily responded, “No, not really.”
“Well,” concluded Socrates, “If what you want to tell me about Diogenes is not validated as True, is not Positive and not even useful to me, why tell me about it?”
The friend was left speechless and ashamed.
Yesterday, I wrote about how we experience the world around us through our five senses and how we should be wary of inputs coming in through our visual and auditory senses because they don’t always represent the truth.
As I wrote yesterday’s piece, I remembered the story of Socrates’s Three Filters which I had read about long back. We can all have a mental model of the three filters when consuming any information or when giving out any information to anyone. If what you have to say is not validated, is not favorable, or not useful to the other person, don’t say it. Otherwise, you are failing the three-filter Test.
Post Script: I don’t know whether this is true or not, but apparently, the friend wanted to convey to Socrates that he heard a rumor that Diogenes was having an affair with his wife. No matter, the essence of the story remains valuable. Avoid speaking about stuff that is hearsay. You are gossiping.