I came across this text over at www.linuxformat.gr and it got me into a lot of thinking. I would like to thank NikolaosX1 for sharing the original post in Greek and Danae for the translation in English that follows.
Here is what NicolaosX1 wrote:
“If you have problems in understanding the substance of Free Software, read the following dialogue between Socrates and Antiphon (Xenophon, Memoires A, 6).
ANTIPHON: I believe that you are a fair man. I do not consider you wise, though. I even think that you know this yourself, since you do not receive any money for your teaching. Your clothes, however, or your house, or any other of your possessions, which you think that may be of value, you would not give it for free or for a lower price than what it’s worth. It is, thus, obvious that if you consider your teaching of value, you should have been receiving some money. You might therefore be fair, because you do not deceive anybody out of greed, but you cannot be wise because you know things with no value.
SOCRATES: Antiphon, I find selling one’s beauty or wisdom a foul deed. Because, if one sells his beauty to whoever wants it, then we call him a prostitute, but if one meets somebody who is beautiful in body and soul and befriends him, then we call him a wise man. This is exactly what happens with wisdom. The ones selling it to those who want it are called Sophists*. Whoever, though, understands that somebody is clever and teaches him something good and makes him a friend, we believe that he is a good and virtuous citizen.
The same way, then, that somebody is pleased to have a good horse or a dog (tangible goods), so am I, and much more, when I have good friends and if I know something good I teach and I recommend it to others, which I think will benefit when it comes to virtue. And I study together with my friends the treasures written in the books of the old wise men and if we find something good we say it and we consider it to be a big profit if we become friends through this.
*Socrates, greatly averse to the Sophists who were paid for the classes they gave mainly to young rich Athenians, compares them to prostitutes (of knowledge).”
After discovering this article I really wanted to write a post here expanding my thoughts on it and how they relate with Free Software. I decided to just express some initial points of concern I have instead, leaving it open for discussion. Here’s what’s troubling me:
- In general I don’t like taking words of great people out of context, nor misusing them just to make a point. I only use this quote here, with respective differences taken into consideration and respecting the analogy, to trigger a conversation. I already feel awkward, but I felt this was something worth sharing.
- I am aware that FLOSS has other “rules” and “freedoms” to define itself and I have in mind that the quoted text is far from expressing the Free Software ideology. However I agree with the initial writer. For me, the idea behind Socrates’ words in a way demonstrates the substance of Free Software, and the “sharing knowledge” concept is one of the reasons that drove me into this community in the first place.
How do you feel about this? Does it represent the essence behind FLOSS to you? And in what perspective? Please leave your comments below, always remembering to keep a contributing spirit.