Just for laughs: Spreading rumours – Socrates: ‘The Test of Three’

Ronnie Apteker
Ronnie Apteker

Everyone enjoys a wee bit of philosophy now and then. In this funny tale, we learn about the “Test of Three”. It will make you laugh, but also, it will make you think. Rumours are very rarely a good thing. They are not facts, and they are often not useful. So, be careful the next time you listen to one, or pass one on. And remember the wisdom of the philosophers. Laugh too while you are at it. This does pack a good punchline. Bet you never saw it coming. – Ronnie Apteker

From Coolfidence

Keep this philosophy in mind the next time you hear, or are out to repeat a rumour.

In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance, who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students … ?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Test of Three.”

“Test of Three?”

“That’s correct,” Socrates continued.


“Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to test what you’re going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man replied, “actually I just heard about it.”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second test, the test 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?”

Smiley_April_2016The man shrugged, a little embarrassed. Socrates continued, “You may still pass though because there is a third test – 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 and said no more.

This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem. It also explains why Socrates never found out that Plato was banging his wife.

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