Audios & Videos

Socrates and Plato - Track 503

Now there is one word here called Peloponnesian War, you have seen that word, Peloponnesian War. There is part of Greece which is called Peloponnesis, it is quite a big region. He lived in a very important town of….was located, it was called Sparta. Now this Peloponnesis and Sparta were away from another part of Greece of which Athens was a city. Now these two cities were constantly in conflict until in the middle of the 5th century BC, the Greek war raged between Athens and Sparta for nearly thirty years. Now this war was called Peloponnesian War. This was important because at the end of this war Sparta won, Athens was defeated. One day when you study Greek history you will find this very important in the development of Greek civilisation and the fortune of the Greek civilisation. Normally when we speak of Greek today, people largely think of it as these two cities, Athens and Sparta. And the two were in great conflict mainly because their temperaments were different. The Athenian was highly artistic, aesthetic, intellectual, philosophical. Sparta was highly disciplined very restricted, laying a great emphasis on rigid rules of morality like military authority. One of the rules of Sparta was that in order to ensure that every citizen of Sparta men and women would be strong physically powerful and capable of enduring even physical pain and heat and cold. Every child who was born in a family was brought to the elders of the family and you might not like to hear this what I am going to say now but for the sake of history it can be said that if the child was found to be weak physically, the child was thrown into deep water to perish. How did they know whether the child was weak or not? They used to examine every organ of the child but such was the discipline and right from the early childhood the child would be put under strict regime of exercise, gymnastics all kinds of muscle building and also the bravery and courage. Now you can see the difference between Athens which was a place of great freedom, liberty, you might say even license, indulgence and pursuit of beauty and imagination and free thinking and free perception and enjoyment and here is Sparta such strict regime and both these cities influence each other, rival with each other and some cities near Athens were friends of Athens and some which were near Sparta were friends of Sparta. But neighbours also used to be friends of each other depending upon their temperament. Those who liked freedom they were friends of Athens, those who were friends of discipline they were friends of Sparta, such was the rivalry between the two. From the psychological point of view it is a very interesting study the contrast between the ideal of beauty and the ideal of morality, the conflict between the good and the beautiful, the pursuit of the beautiful and the pursuit of the good. If and when you read Sri Aurobindo’s great book called The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo has devoted a portion of a chapter on this very subject where he has contrasted Sparta and Athens. So when you have time you do something of Sparta and something of Athens.

After repelling two Persian invasions, the polis (city) of Athens reached during Socrates' lifetime the zenith of its political power and cultural achievements, and every aspect of the collective life prospered and developed. Architecture and the arts blossomed during this time, (This is the pursuit of beauty in Athens) when Pericles, a political leader, promoted the extension and beautification of the Acropolis, (Acropolis is the name of the city which was built above the ground. There are two words in the West Acropolis and Necropolis. Necropolis is the town built below the ground, under the ground. Acropolis is the city built above the ground and Phidias is the name of the great sculptor, the greatest in Greece.) and Phidias, the sculptor, created the statues of the Parthenon. (Parthenon is a big temple. Sometimes you should see the ruins which are still visible in Athens.) Cultural events such as public performances of the great plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides formed part of the developing urban lifestyle. All citizens, rich or poor, could enjoy these social events together in an atmosphere of critical appreciation. The political and social organisation of the Greek city–states is regarded as an important step in the evolution of mankind's collective organisation, for it was an attempt to realise freedom and equality for the individual. Although the rights of free expression and political participation were confined to Greek citizens — the agrarian economy being based on slave labour imported from foreign "barbaric" countries the polis embodied the ideal of the dignity and independence of the human being. (This sentence is slightly difficult; I shall explain a few words.) Although the rights of free expression and political participation were confined to Greek citizens – the agrarian economy being based on slave labour imported from foreign "barbaric" countries what is agrarian economy? Agriculture economy is called agrarian economy, economy based on the products of the agriculture farms. So at that time the farms were cultivated not by Greek citizens but by slaves who were brought from foreign countries by conquering the foreign countries. So those who were captured in the war they were brought to Athens and they were asked to till the soil and make production of agriculture. So the entire economy of agriculture was based upon the labour of the slaves and these slaves had no freedom, they were not allowed to do whatever they liked, they were not allowed to choose their profession, their activity, their education they were slaves. They were asked to do what was pleasing to the masters. So the economy was based upon the slaves and the labour of the slaves. But inspite of that they could make very good experiments in freedom because all the Greek citizens were free they enjoyed a tremendous freedom therefore the polis, the city embodied the ideal of the dignity and independence of the human being.) Politics was considered an important common concern, and participation in the daily decision–making process was the right and duty of each citizen. Athens grew into one of the largest cities of the ancient world, bursting the limits of the traditionally small city–state and establishing an empire. This empire, however, did not last long: a conflict with the Greek city–state of Sparta, Athens' rival throughout Greek history, grew into the long Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) in which Athens was ultimately defeated. Thus, Socrates knew both the splendour of the Periclean age and the chaos of war — a war which brought not only material hardship but, even more crucial for Socrates, a confusion in the sciences and an erosion of moral values. (Always war brings about corruption and erosion of moral values and this is what happened to Athens because of the long war of how many years? 431– 404 BC, that is 27 years.)

Socrates taught that the great problem of any human being lies in the question of how to live his life. Endowed with rationality, each man must decide what course his life shall take. Although mankind's common aim is a "good life"there is no common agreement on what a "good life" is, or how to reach it. Socrates' answer to this question lies in the Greek term arete, which is usually translated as "virtue", but more precisely means the full perfection of man s innate qualities.

(You know the word innate? Innate means inborn, you know the meaning of inborn? Inborn is that which is born with you right from birth. That which is born with you is called innate, what are your innate qualities courage, bravery, intelligence, dexterity, skills, capacity to dance, some people have innate capacity to dance some don’t have inborn qualities. Some people are intelligent right from birth, some cultivate it later on when you cultivate later on its not innate, its born with you it is innate.)

Socrates' concept of the excellent and perfect human life is an integral one, encompassing the development of all physical, vital and intellectual potentialities. Pursuing this aim in his own life, Socrates fought in war and participated in the Olympic games, but his primary concern was the intellect, which he considered the noblest part of man’s nature. He persistently inquired into problems of human knowledge and conduct but, unlike the Sophists — "the skilled men" — he never did this for pay. In fact, Socrates despised the Sophists for being "quibblers". (It’s a very important word quibbler. What is quibbling? Take a word which means one thing in one context, take the same word which means something else in another context and confuse the hearer and give a kind of a screen so the real meaning is not known, you quibble, let me take one example. The meaning of the word able is capable, right? What is the meaning of desirable? That which you should desire that is the real meaning of desirable. But now you quibble that which is capable of being desired. Supposing I say desirable means that which is capable of being desired not what you said just now, not that which ought to be desired. So in an argument that which is capable of being desired, for example I say ice–cream is desirable. The child says ice–cream is desirable because he is capable of being desired. I can desire ice–cream therefore ice–cream is desirable, you see the quibbling? Not very clear, let me give a small example. There is a philosopher who said ‘pleasure is desired’, is that clear? Pleasure is desired, everybody desires pleasure therefore pleasure is something which can be desired therefore pleasure is desirable. Pleasure is desired therefore pleasure is capable of being desired, therefore pleasure is desirable. This is the argument, this is the quibbling. Desire has two meanings that which can be desired and that which ought to be desired. It has two meanings, now without making a clear distinction between the two you use the word which can be understood in the other sense. This is a kind of an argument, you write it down.)


+