Socrates in the Labyrinth: Hypertext, Argument, Philosophy is one of the pioneer works of non-fiction hypertext. It aimed “to examine and exploit the techniques of hypertext rhetoric discovered in the development of serious hypertext fiction”(Eastgate catalogue). Hypertext can be understood as an umbrella term denoting a specific form of electronic document organization (Ensslin 2014, 258). In a hypertext, hyperlinked documents are connected in an interactive network. Audiences can activate hyperlinks and navigate a hypertext typically by clicking a mouse, touching the screen or pressing keys on a keyboard. Socrates in the Labyrinth is authored by David Kolb, who is a philosopher and the Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.
Socrates in the Labyrinth was produced in Storyspace. Storyspace is a software program for creating, editing and reading interlinked narrative, both fiction and nonfiction. It provides multiple ways to see and map hypertext for readers and authors. Authors can easily publish hypertexts. In the Storyspace tool, the standard opening writing space or note is called a node. “Each data element, whether textual report, still photograph, or transcribed interview, was then attached to an associated reference node and links were created to the data. Each link was given a name based on what it referenced” (Erfle 2001). “Kolb’s hypertext presents us with 195 nodes in the opening interface that open to other boxes nested within them. In total, Socrates in the Labyrinth is made up of 26,000 words, 307 nodes of text with 741 links” (Grigar et al. 2018). Kolb tried different hypertext structures; “Perhaps the most convincing structure he creates, and the one that has been widely adopted, is the ’cycle’” (Dicks et al. 2005, 57). “In the Cycle, the reader returns to a previously-visited node and eventually departs along a new path. Cycles create recurrence and so express the presence of structure”(Bernstein).
Socrates in the Labyrinth is a philosophical work. “Does a philosophical argument need to be in a linear order?” is the main question Kolb asked and his answer is no. He used the hypertextual form to explore “the epistemology surrounding print-based writing” (Grigar 2018). “Does hypertext present alternatives to the logical structures of if-then, claim and support? Is hypertext a mere expository tool, that cannot alter the essence of discussion and proof? Or is hypertext essentially unsuited to rigorous argument?” (Eastgate catalogue). He aimed to find new methods to develop philosophical arguments; “Kolb's work … offers both a rationale and example of how hypertext can reshape argument and philosophy”(Carbone 1996).
“He further emphasizes that structural fragmentation by the digital, and the consequent diminished ability to retrace a putatively unbroken history of a received idea or body of knowledge, does not deny the philosopher's disciplinary purpose to create an “argumentative line” but rather complicates philosophical work by enabling the persistence of multiple lines.” (Lamberti and Richards 2011, 51)
The work consists of five files: "Socrates in the Labyrinth," which is the main text which figures as the main text, along with four smaller works: “Habermas Pyramid”, “Earth Orbit”, “Cleavings”, and “Aristotle’s Argument”. These four essays utilize capabilities of the hypertext medium as Nick Carbone indicated in his review of the work:
“"Habermas Pyramid," a linear essay that is accentuated with a "multi-level pyramidal hypertext outline" (8).
"Earth Orbit," which presents "statements of linear argument...ordered in multiple cycles and epicycles" (9).
"Cleavings," which combines "four classic but diverse texts" (9) and makes a comparison of their hypertext form to their linear form.
"Aristotle Essay" which takes a "complex argument from Aristotle" (9) and puts it into the 'mixed form' explored in "Socrates in the Labyrinth."”
Bernstein, Mark. "Cycle." accessed February 15, 2020. https://www.eastgate.com/patterns/Patterns3.html
Carbone, Nick. 1996. “Socrates in the Labyrinth: David Kolb Re-Thinks Argument and Philosophy.” Kairos 1.1. Spring. , accessed February 15, 2020. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/1.1/reviews/carbone/socstart.html.
Dicks, Bella, Bruce Mason, Amanda Coffey, and Paul Atkinson. 2005. Qualitative research and hypermedia: Ethnography for the digital age. London: Sage.
Ensslin, Astrid. 2014. “Hypertextuality.” Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media, edited by Marie-Laure Ryan, Lori Emerson and Benjamin J. Robertson. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Erfle, Stephen. 2001. “Excel as a Teaching Platform for Managerial Economics. Social Science Computer Review.” Social Science Computer Review. 19(4):480-486. accessed March 3, 2020. 10.1177/089443930101900407.
Lamberti, A. P., and Anne R Richards, eds. 2011. Complex worlds: digital culture, rhetoric and professional communication. Amityville, NY: Baywood.
Kolb, David. "Socrates in the Labyrinth; David A. Kolb". Eastgate Systems, Inc. Online catalogue, accessed February 15, 2020. http://www.eastgate.com/catalog/Socrates.html
Grigar, Dene, Nicholas Schiller, Vanessa Rhodes, Mariah Gwin, Katie L. Price, and Veronica Whitney. 2018. Rebooting Electronic Literature: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media Volume 1. Nouspace Publications. https://scalar.usc.edu/works/rebooting-electronic-literature/index .