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Socrates and Plato - Track 301

Last time we only read the story of the life of Socrates. Now we go into the teaching of Socrates. What did he teach, what was the main bearing of the discussions with the people in the market place with various sophists? Let me explain as an introduction two or three words which will be very important to understand Socrates. One is the word ‘sophist’, which you have done with me the word sophist. Sophists' was a group of teachers, who used to teach young people the art of argument, how to argue in a debate. Now what was the importance of an argument in a debate? The importance was that Athens, one of the great city states of ancient Greece was run by some kind of democracy.

Now what is democracy? Democracy has been defined as a rule of the people, for the people and by the people. In other words, when the governance, the government, the ruling of the whole society is done by the people themselves, not by a king, nor by a chief, nor by a few individuals then every important matter had to be decided by all the people. Now whenever the people are called then people make propositions, statements, they express their opinions. Now wherever there is a situation where the people argue, by presenting their opinions the normal tendency is that their argument should win. Whatever statement you make, you want the statement to be legitimate; to be declared to be legitimate, people should be convinced about your point of view. Whenever people of a city are gathered together in an assembly and where people are allowed to speak, people believe to concentrate upon the art of speaking, how to speak, what to speak, what form of speech? Just as people, when war takes place then the concentration will be on the use of arms. If it is by archery then the archers become very powerful then archery will come into the picture and people will train in archery. But if an action depends upon winning a debate then young people will be taught how to argue in a debate. How will they put forward their arguments? That is why in the time of Socrates there arose a group of teachers who used to gather young people and teach them how to argue and how to win in a battle of arguments. Now first is the language because all arguments are spoken in a language, therefore importance of language is underlined.

Secondly, what is called the art of involved argument? What is involved argument? It involves the process of ratiocination. I told you last time the word ratiocination, I should repeat it. I had given the example of it, 'a' is the cause of 'b', 'b' is the cause of 'c', 'c' is the cause of 'd', therefore 'a' is the cause of 'g'. This is the process of ratiocination; you connect one idea with the other, second to the third, third to the fourth, fourth with the fifth, fifth with the sixth, sixth with the seventh. Now 'a' is the cause of 'g', is an involved argument. So if you are taught how to make involved argument the other party will be put to a great difficulty to understand the involved argument. Unless the whole chain is explained he will not understand 'a' causes 'g', unless you explain 'a' cause 'b', 'b', 'c', 'c', 'd', 'e' etc. If you simply say in an argument 'a' is the cause of 'g' the other party will find it very difficult to understand it. Therefore in the battle of arguments the other party is baffled. It takes time for the other party to understand the argument therefore you have upper hand because you are making an involved argument. The other party takes time to understand you, perplexed, the other party becomes perplexed is not able to even answer your question therefore you win the argument because the other party does not have the time to think out all the steps and meet the steps one by one. Now this is one of the ways by which you can win the argument, if you can tell the students that if you learn to win the argument then make an involved argument. Don’t argue in the way in which you teach in a school where you can explain step by step. You pose as if you are the master of the argument and give a short statement in which you connect one cause with the effect which is very remote and pose them together therefore the other party will not be able to argue easily against you, therefore you win the argument.

Now usually arguments must be true. All arguments are ultimately meant for what? For finding out the truth, so if you are servant of the truth then you don’t try to win over the other party simply by the power of the argument or by perplexing the opponent by putting him into disadvantage. You put your statements in such a pell–mell manner, in a complex manner the other party is not able to understand you fully and therefore cannot reply to you. So this method of arguing in which the aim is to win the argument and not necessarily to serve the truth is what is called sophistry. It is called sophistry because the argument, the form of argument which was levelled by sophists. The group of teachers they came to be called sophists because they taught sophistry. They taught the art of argument in such a manner, in such an involved manner, ’ one of the witty arguments which is often put as an example, when have you stopped beating your wife? He doesn’t ask whether you beat your wife at all first, when have you stopped beating your wife? It’s an involved argument, it assumes you were already beating your wife, it already assumes. It may not be true. It is assumed by the argumentator, he puts you at a disadvantage. If you say: “I have stopped” that means you were beating your wife earlier, if you say:”no” that means you are continuing to beat your wife yet. So both ways you are caught, the answer would be either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It takes time for you to understand that you are already in the claws of your opponent. To say that I have never being doing at all, it will take you time sometime to say this. Our first reaction to any question is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. But before you can announce it, you are perplexed because here in both ways if you say ‘yes’, you are caught; if you say ‘no’ you are caught. This is called an involved argument. So if you are only trying to win and fake the argument, you can do it without recourse to truth. So you can in a debate teach your students how to win in an assembly that is why you will see that in any democracy those who can shout loudly, those who can put down their opponents saying: ‘you don’t know anything’ these are the tricks. Shouting is one trick they know when you should start an argument in the beginning, in the middle or at the end. Let everybody first finish his arguments then you stand up, read certain points or right from the beginning you start shouting so an atmosphere is created of some great offence which has been committed somewhere or when the argument heats up, when the truth is going to be discovered, you begin to create a lot of storm. Three or four shouting people they get together and create a lot of storm, the truth is covered. You can see how evil creeps into a very sacred thing called argument. Argument is actually a process by which truth is to be discovered very simply but you can misuse the form of argument, you can state the argument in such a way that instead of seeking the truth the opponent is simply baffled and he cannot answer. This is how a sophist, a group of teachers became very powerful because democracy was the method of deciding things in which people were asked to argue, therefore this evil arose in the time of Socrates. Young people who were politicians particularly or children of politicians who wanted a big career in politics they were taught by these sophists the art of argument, art of argument in order to win the argument not necessarily to find out the truth and they used to charge huge fees for training young people. They did not care for the truth, they only cared for winning. Now Socrates was completely opposed to sophists. He wanted people to think of the truth, to discover the truth, to arrive at knowledge. I’ll give you a number of examples where fallacies are committed but they’ll not be easily detected. So this is the one aspect which you have to understand while understanding Socrates. Because Socrates used to go to sophists and he used to point out to them their mistakes. Sophists were very angry with him. Take for example the following illustration.

Once Socrates went to a sophists and the argument turned on the subject of virtue, so Socrates said to the sophist: Look I am very ignorant, it’s a style of his argument. (Socrates always said that he was ignorant and he was seeking for knowledge) I am very ignorant, can you tell me: ‘what is virtue?’ so the sophist said: “well, it’s a very simple question. What is the problem? Benevolence is a virtue, kindness is a virtue, generosity is a virtue, forgiveness is a virtue, gentility is a virtue. So Socrates said: “my dear friend you are giving me only list of virtues, my question is what is virtue, I am not asking the list of virtues, I am not asking what are virtues, my question is what is virtue, I am not asking what are virtues? So please make a distinction in your mind between my question which would be what are virtues to which your answer may be quite alright and the question that I am asking what is virtue? What is it by which all these virtues are really virtues, what is common between all of them by means of which all of them are called virtues? If you ask question: tell me what is man? Then you give the examples Tobean is a man, so–and–so is a man  and so–and–so is a man, it’s a list of men, it’s not an answer to the question what is man, what is manhood? What is it by virtue of which all men are called men? This was one of the reasons why sophists wanted that Socrates should be silenced forever. Now this is one aspect which you have to understand with regard to Socrates. He was in search always of what is called definitions. He felt that you can define an object only when you knew, it is knowledge, right knowledge which gives you the power to define. So in various discussions Socrates always used to bring up the question of the definition, how you define. Yesterday we saw that Plato wrote the whole book called the Republic only to define justice. It’s a huge book but the whole book is designed to define justice. You cannot define justice unless you know the whole world, totality of knowledge and that it what it shows that unless you know the totality, you cannot define justice. This is the second aspect of Socrates.

The third aspect of Socrates was that he wanted people of Athens to be virtuous, there was so much of corruption at that time, in the time of Socrates, there was so much of lying, falsehood and people were winning debates by telling lies that he had taken up as a task for himself to make young people virtues, all people virtuous. In fact the whole city he wanted to be virtues and he felt that he had been given a mission by God himself to make young people particularly virtuous. So he used to roam about barefoot and stop anybody on the way and ask anybody the question define so and so. Now who would like to be asked a question suddenly in the market place, some deep questions of philosophy? So excepting young people, who had lot of time because at that time there were many people had lot of leisure because some people had become very rich, so their children particularly had nothing to do, so they also use to roam about in the market places and they were stopped by Socrates and some of them were very much impressed by Socrates. So that is how a good deal of young people were around him but he would ask this question define so and so, define that thing. He will ask a question: if you want to make a shoe, to whom do you go? This was a very famous question he used to ask: if you want to make a shoes, to whom do you go? Obvious answer is to go to the shoe–maker. He would say: why? The answer will be ultimately that shoe–maker knows how to make the shoes; he knows how to make shoes. And once you give this answer, his next question would be; if you want to govern the society to whom do you go? If you want to govern the society to whom do you go? If you want to make a shoe, to whom do you go to, ’ to the shoe–maker, why, because shoe–maker know how to make shoes. Now in the same way, now you argue if you want to govern the society to whom do you go? Answer? To the governor and who is the governor? One who knows how to govern?


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