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Socrates and Plato - Track 302

And then he used to say: do you think these people know how to govern, all these people who are arguing, who are all sitting and making assembly, shouting this way, that way, sophistry of all kinds, do you think they know how to govern the society? So he pleaded for a new form of government in which the government is run by those who know how to govern. And do you think that people can know how to govern without a long education? No. therefore he said that you select the best people of the country, teach them philosophy so that they can see the whole, totality and when they have been able to see the totality, the knowledge of the whole then they should know how to apply the knowledge, the mark of wisdom; vision of the truth and application of the truth. So that was his answer he said: do you think these people know how to govern the government, run the government? They don’t, that is why those who were governing they were very opposed to Socrates because they felt that Socrates was undermining their authority all together. In fact the influence of Socrates on Plato was so great that Plato when he wrote his book, the great book The Republic, his conclusion was the following: unless the rulers become philosophers or philosophers become the rulers the glory will not come, if you want glory in the society either the rulers should become philosophers or philosophers should become the rulers that was his conclusion.

It reminds us of Mother has said for Auroville, that people of intuitive intelligence should be there and it is their advice which should be followed. If you really want Auroville to be developed rightly, you need a few individuals who are endowed with intuitive intelligence. Intuitive intelligence is the intelligence which pursues wisdom, perceives the totality of truth from all sides and applies the truth, ’ this was the conclusion of Plato long ago. So now you come to the conclusion that Socrates was very much concerned with wisdom, with virtue and he wanted to teach everybody what is virtue. Now with this background I will read this. 

“Among the many views of Socrates, his doctrine of ‘Virtue is Knowledge’ is perhaps the most important. This doctrine can be interpreted in two ways, according as we attach different meanings to the words ‘Virtue’ and ‘Knowledge’. We shall deal with them one after the other.

You can regard this particular paper as an introductory study of a philosophical doctrine. There are many doctrines in philosophy but this particular one is a simple exposition. It is simple because you are beginners, so what is written here is for a beginner but gives you a good experience of how to study philosophy, how to read philosophical works; so it is a kind of a good step for you all to enter into a philosophical domain. So in the very beginning you are told that there are two ways by which you can interpret the whole doctrine. What is the meaning of virtue and what is the meaning of knowledge? Depending upon different meanings that you can attach to these two words, you have two different interpretations of this doctrine. Now let us begin with the first.

“Traditionally, it is held that the ethical problem is a double one first, (now why am I speaking here of ethical problem? It is because we are dealing with the problem of virtue, virtue is an ethical problem. So before I go farther let me explain to you what is ethical. What is ethical is discussed in a subject called Ethics. There is a whole big subject called Ethics. It is also called ‘Moral Philosophy’ – philosophy of morals. Ethics is a study of the standards of conduct, standards of action. Now the word ‘standard’ also requires to be understood. This is how you study philosophy, every word you measure and you ask the question what is standard, what is action, what is conduct? Standard is a 'norm', it’s another word. What is a norm? Norm is a standard. Very often definitions are synonyms, now what is a standard it is a norm, norm is a standard. So we need another word to explain to ourselves. There is a difference between positive and normative. A child is chewing chocolate, so you describe, 'child is chewing chocolate’ this is what is called a positive statement. A positive statement is a statement, you see it is raining, it’s a positive statement or there is sunshine ’ is a positive statement. I like this very much, is a positive statement. The child ought not to be chewing chocolate because it will affect its teeth. The child ought not to be chewing chocolate, you tell the child: ‘Don’t do it’, this is a normative statement. Any statement in which you find the statement ought, should, must, these statements are called normative statements. I must be regular in the class, it’s a normative statement. If you now come regularly to the class you can say: I am following what I should be doing. If you now come to the class and say ‘I am doing what I ought to be doing. What I ought to be doing is called a norm, is a standard. And I am now following the standard and when you follow a standard then your action is called ethical. Whenever there is a standard for a conduct, for any kind of action then when that standard is followed that action is called ethical. When you don’t follow the standards is called unethical. To follow an action as you ought to is called moral action or ethical action, when you don’t follow it is called immoral or unethical action.

Now Socrates was in search of standards. What is a norm, what should be the norm of your action, we should always be doing the right action, we should be doing good actions. And how do you decide what is good, what is right? Now there are many answers to this question. One simple answer is you ought to be doing what you like. You ought to be doing what you like, this also is an answer this argument is rebutted, rebutted is another word in philosophy, refutation of an argument, rebuttal of an argument. When you can prove that the argument is not correct, it is called rebuttal or a refutation of the argument. So if you argue: I ought to be doing what I like and the rebuttal of the argument is at different times, you like different things, at different times, you like different things therefore you ought to be doing different things at different times. A time will come when you will contradict yourself. You will say at once I ought to be doing this; I ought to be doing that, exactly the opposite. At different times you like different things even contrary things therefore your answer is not valid because you contradict yourself. I ought to be in good company all the time, I like to be in the good company all the time therefore I ought to be in the good company all the time. But at times you will say: I don’t like to be in the company, I want to be alone therefore I have to be alone. Then is it right for anybody to be alone or is it right to be in the good company? Which is more correct, both are correct. Sometimes I like this and sometimes I like that but then you contradict yourself. It doesn’t tell you what you should be doing. If you say sometimes what is that sometimes? It does not guide you properly. A standard must be such that you can apply universally. A standard is called a standard when it can be applied universally. Take a simple example of a good standard. All the cars must drive on the left hand side that is true in India and in all the British colonies, all the cars should be driven on the left hand side. Now if somebody says: sometimes I like to drive on the right hand side, sometimes I like to drive on the left hand side, can you make a standard? And if you make a standard what will happen to traffic and what will happen to yourself, if people drive left or right according to their liking; what will happen to yourself? You yourself will come into trouble, it is only if all agree to drive on the left hand side then your traffic will be safe or you should decide that all should drive on the right hand side as in France and in continental countries, ’ all cars should be driven on the right hand side. But take a decision which is universally applicable, if you don’t there will be trouble. So there are many answers to this question I am not going into the details of this question, I am only concentrating upon the Socratic answer to the question. What is right, what is correct, what is good? Even the words good and right are to be examined so let us deal with that question. Usually we use these two words interchangeably, good is right, right is good. But if you are a good student of ethics, of moral philosophy you will make a distinction between the two. Right is a word used, good is that which satisfies you in your highest state of consciousness. The word good refers to satisfaction, when you are satisfied you say it is good, you don’t say it is right. But when you act according to a rule, it is called right. When you drive on the left hand side in India, it is correct because it is the rule that you should drive. If you drive in France on the left, it’s not right because the rule is that you should drive on the right hand side. You don’t say that I am driving because it is good, it is right on the right hand side or the left hand side according to the rule. You don’t say I drive on the left hand side because it gives me greater satisfaction. It is not depending on your satisfaction whether you drive on the left or right, it’s not that I am very much satisfied when I drive on left hand side and less satisfied when I drive on the right hand side, doesn’t refer to satisfaction. So you use the word good when there is a question of satisfaction and since satisfaction is of different levels, at different times you are satisfied according to your different states of consciousness. The same thing does not satisfy you all the time. The kind of lecture that I am giving you today will not satisfy you after five years because you will make lot of advances in your own studies and you will say this is a very, very elementary lecture, it doesn’t satisfy me. You will require a very, very sophisticated lecture after five years. The present kind of lecture satisfies you, after five years it will not satisfy you, so you will say: it is a good lecture now but if I give the same lecture to you after five years it will be no more good lecture, you’ll say it is all children’s play, it is childish, you’ll say; all this talk is childish. You would have become much, much more sophisticated, much more advanced. So at different levels of your consciousness, different things satisfied you therefore there is a hierarchy of goods. For example you say pleasure is good at a given stage all that is pleasant you find it to be good. I like my uncle very much, why? Because he is a good man because he gives me good smiles, he always protects me, always defends me therefore my uncle is good. So anybody who gives you pleasure is good. Then afterwards you say: Oh! He is a good man, why? Because he knows so much, knowledge satisfies you therefore knowledge is good. Sometimes you will say he is a good man because he is fearless, courageous, he is heroic, not that he has got lot of knowledge, he is courageous, he is heroic, he stands by justice therefore he is good. So now you see three levels I told you ’ pleasure is good, knowledge is good, character is good so you three things now which are good depending upon the level of your consciousness. At our childhood anything that pleases is good. When you grow up a little anybody who knows better, who gives you knowledge is good. When you go still farther you find that anybody who has a real character is good. In the case of the right, right is that which follows a rule. There you don’t have so many levels; right is right because it follows a rule. Whatever it’s not that it’s less right, it’s more right, anything that is according to the rule is right, fully right. If I drive on the right hand side it is wrong because it is not according to rule, you can’t say it is slightly right or slightly wrong. Driving on the right hand side in India is wrong and fully wrong.

Now first of all you have to ask the question what is virtue? And this is the question of Socrates and that depends upon the question of ethics. Ethics is the study of right and good, where right is defined as that which is according to rule and good is defined as that which is good, satisfying at your highest level of your consciousness. Now these are two very good definitions to start with. Now Socrates said: 'virtue is knowledge', ’ that is his answer to this question and this is his whole doctrine, his whole philosophy is ‘virtue is knowledge.’ Now why does Socrates bring in the question of knowledge at all while discussing virtue? He doesn’t say virtue is right or wrong, virtue is good or bad, he brings in another concept altogether ‘knowledge’, ‘virtue is knowledge’ . Now here the statement is “it is held that the ethical problem is a double one” what is that double one? First the problem of knowing what is right and second the problem of doing what is known to be right.  We shall read again.

Traditionally it is held that the ethical problem is a double one. First the problem of knowing what is right and second the problem of doing what is known to be right. But according to the first interpretation Socrates identifies knowledge, the first problem with virtue, the second problem. According to Socrates it is maintained ‘knowing and doing cannot be separated.’ If a person knows a thing to be right he cannot but do it or in other words a person cannot voluntarily do wrong. These three sentences I am going like a ratiocination, you will see it is a more complicated statement, I shall repeat. According to Socrates it is maintained ‘knowing and doing cannot be separated.’ If a person knows a thing to be right he cannot but do it or in other words a person cannot voluntarily do wrong. Voluntarily means freely. If you know what is right, you will not voluntarily, willingly do a wrong thing. His argument was that once you know what is right and therefore what is beneficial, that which prevents misery, once you know this can you willingly, freely choose what is wrong, which will bring misery. Socrates said: ‘no’. If you really know what is right, you cannot but do the right thing if you are free, unless it is a compulsion then of course it is a different matter. But if you are free then knowing what is right, you cannot but do. He said virtue is knowledge because if you know the virtue then you cannot but practise virtue. So the virtuous action depends upon your knowing what is virtue? If you know what is virtue, you will always perform virtue.

Now this is what is challenged by many people. Why because many people say; there was a statement of Duryodhana, you know the story of Duryodhana, Duryodhana who was in Mahabharata the opponent of Bhima and Pandavas. There is a famous sentence where he says: “I know what is right but I have no inclination towards it; I know what is wrong but I am inclined towards it , I cannot remove myself from what is wrong." “Dharmam janami na cha me pravritti, adharmam janami na chame nivrittih, I know what is right but I have no inclination ’ na cha me pravritti, I have no inclination towards it. I know what is wrong but I cannot extricate myself from it, I am inclined towards it.


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