Test of Three

From Socratic tradition.

Test of Three

There was once a man who, after hearing an unflattering rumour about a friend of Socrates', hurried to the philosopher to spread the gossip.

“Hey Socrates! You wouldn't believe what I've heard about your friend!” He said when he found Socrates.

“Wait a moment,” Socrates said to him. “Before you tell me what it is you want to say, let's put it to the Test of Three.”

“The Test of Three?” Repeated the man.

“That's right,” Socrates said. “Here's the first test: Is it true? Is what you wish to tell me about my friend something you've confirmed to be true? Or is it just hearsay that you are now spreading without proof?”

The man was a bit embarrassed and replied, “Oh, well, I haven't actually confirmed the story myself. I only just heard it in the marketplace.”

“I see,” said Socrates. “So you were about to tell me something that you weren't sure to be true. You were about to spread information that might be false, huh? Fine, let's see if what you have to say passes the next test: Is it good?

Again, the man blushed and slowly shook his head. “No, it's not. It's actually a bad thing that I heard,” the man explained.

“That's surprising,” said Socrates. “You hurried over to tell me something—about a friend of mine—that was bad but might not even be true. Well, let's see if you pass the third test: Is it useful?

The man lowered his gaze and said slowly, “no, I don't think so.”

“I see. Well, if what you want to tell me is not true, not good and not useful, I suggest you don't tell me at all.”


Notes

Beyond the unmistakable caution against slander and gossip—something the Stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius clearly disapproved of in his private Meditations—this first story sets an example for the rest of the collection here on STOICA for a couple of reasons.

First, the ancient Stoics greatly admired the Athenian philosopher Socrates. So opening with a story that features the ancient sage is appropriate, as the Stoics drew much inspiration from the life and death of Socrates. The entire Stoic project may be said to be an emulation of Socrates' example and way of life.

Second, each of the stories in our collection has been put through the same Test of Three. Being folk stories, most of them naturally fall short under the first criterion and some struggle to pass the second. But perhaps most importantly, as far as Stoic philosophy is concerned, the stories collected here pass the third and final test—the test of usefulness.

Each STOICA story presents an invaluable lesson in Stoicism that's worth remembering and sharing. Each of these stories reveal a profound insight into the art of living a good life and should prove useful in anyone's project of self-betterment and search for Stoic joy.