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Socrates and Plato - Track 601

Doesn't matter, we shall come back to it later on then you'll be able to put it in the centre of your mind, alright? So don't worry just now. You have understood at least that at least there is a definition of virtue which is given in terms of knowledge that arguments have been levelled that these arguments however do not prove this doctrine. Now we go to the second level of understanding this doctrine. If Socrates was confined only to these statements which you have made so far, Socrates’ doctrine is defective. Now we bring some more facts, you come to section number two:

There are two particularities of the Socratic virtue. First according to Socrates virtue is not an art, it is not an outward accomplishment. Art can be used in a good way as well as in a bad way. A doctor can cure as well as murder a patient by his knife but for a doctor who is good as a man also there is only one way open and it is to cure. A virtuous man can and must do only what is good, he is too free to have alternatives. (These are very simple statements; we shall go forward and then come back to it again) Secondly there is according to Socrates unity of virtue. A virtuous person is one who has developed all the virtues and harmonised them in such a manner that they make a unity among themselves. Whatever action springs from such a person is always good. Corresponding to this unity of virtue there is the Socratic view of the unitary knowledge, the knowledge of the good which is not piece–meal or particular but are universal, unified vision of the highest reality.

These are the two basic statements Now these two paragraphs are basically very simple but I give you an example of complex writing. This is a complex writing so I’ll have to simplify it: Virtue is not an art and virtue is a unity. If Socrates had said nothing more than what he said in Leches and Charmides and then the criticism levelled against him would be quite correct. Now we go to Socrates and say but that is not all that Socrates has said. Socrates has said something much more. So before you criticise you take into account these two facts also. These two statements are: Virtue according to Socrates is not an art and virtue according to him is a unity.

Let us try to understand these two statements. You know what is a good manner? You are having a good manner if you sit properly, if you eat properly, if you behave properly. Now there is a difference between behaviour or manner and virtue. Do you distinguish between the two things? To be good–mannered is not necessarily to be virtuous.

Tobean can you say the difference between a good manner and virtue. There is a very nice sentence in Shakespeare’s drama which is called Hamlet. ‘One may smile and smile and yet be wicked.’ Now to smile is a good greeting, is a good manner and yet one can be inwardly quite mischievous, quite troublesome, quite wicked. It makes a distinction between a greeting between a good manner and the inner condition of the heart and mind. So when Socrates says ‘Virtue is not an art’ what he means is that virtue is not an outward manner, virtue is something seated deep into your being, what is only an outward behaviour may not be spontaneous, you may greet people even without meaning inwardly in our own heart but if you are really appreciative of the person whom you are greeting then you cannot but greet well. In the other case you may greet, you may not greet, it is not a spontaneous thing but when you are truly happy with somebody, you cannot but spontaneously greet well, it’s not an art; it’s a spontaneous expression. It is an artifice but this is the word he has used ‘virtue is not an art’ you do not contrive in that sense, art as opposed to spontaneity. You don’t make an effort in the sense in which a good doctor may be a good surgeon. He has a skill but the same skill can be used also by the murderer, the same skill as far as the artistic skill is concerned. But if you are really a good man, a virtues man you can use your skill only for curing the patient. So his first statement is 'virtue is not an art', virtue is a spontaneous expression.

Second that 'virtue is a unity', if you are kind, you will also be forgiving, if you are forgiving, you will be also generous, if you are generous, you’ll be supportive, if you are supportive, you will promote the good of all. Each virtue is tied up with every other virtue, so unless you are virtuous totally, your virtue is incomplete. You are supposed to be virtuous only when you have cultivated all the virtues. You cannot be a good man of knowledge unless you are heroic at the same time, you cannot be heroic unless you are full of love at the same time, you cannot be a person full of love unless you are able skilfully to protect the weak and the oppressed. All the four things should go together. If you are wise, you are courageous, if you are courageous, you are full of love, if you are full of love, you’ll be very skilful. Virtue is unity. When all the virtues are united then only each virtue becomes complete. Now this is Socratic doctrine. Not only 'virtue is knowledge' but 'virtue is not an art and virtue is a unity'. Now we proceed further.

Moreover we have to note that the Socratic doctrine of freedom which comes close to the Hindu idea of moksha or liberation. Such liberation is obtained by freeing oneself from the bonds of spiritual blindness which is the cause of all evil. The state of liberation is the state of illumination spoken of as knowledge by Socrates. Both in Socrates and Plato there is a distinction between opinion and knowledge. Opinion is an apprehension of the particular that is partly real and partly unreal, whereas knowledge is the comprehension of the universal which is wholly real. It is the knowledge which according to Socrates liberates man from the bonds of ignorance and evil.

Now this is the other word which is very important ‘virtue is freedom’, freedom from what? freedom from ignorance. This is similar to the Hindu idea of moksha. Moksha also means freedom; you become free from bonds, bondage, bondage to ignorance, bondage to evil because evil arises out of ignorance. According to Socrates when you have virtue one sign of virtuousness is that you should be feeling a sense of freedom in which evil has no hold on you. You don’t have to make an effort, effort is a sign that you are as yet in the grip of bondage. When you are really free, you are spontaneous. You automatically do the right thing. So virtue is freedom. So you take these three concepts together virtue is not an art, virtue is unity, now there are two sentences in this paragraph which I read out to you which are not very easy.

 Both in Socrates and Plato there is a distinction between opinion and knowledge. When you know a particular it is opinion, when you know the whole it is knowledge.

This is the difference he makes between opinion and knowledge. Any knowledge, this is a tree according to Plato this idea that this is a tree is an opinion. You take any particular object and try to know it, Socrates and Plato said that you will never know it wholly because it is a particular thing. You will know it wholly when you know the whole world then only you will know this particular thing truly. To know anything in particular, you can simply have an opinion but not the knowledge. So when Socrates says virtue is knowledge the answer is that it is that knowledge which unifies.

Virtue is knowledge means virtue is knowledge means that is knowledge that is the knowledge of the whole, of the totality. It is knowledge of the totality which according to Socrates liberates man from the bonds of ignorance and evil. This is the second sentence. It is the knowledge of the totality which liberates from ignorance and evil.

 Now having said all this you now have a complete idea of doctrine of Socrates. Unified virtue is unified knowledge. So the equation is when you say virtue is knowledge, it is an equation. Now after all this we come to the conclusion that unified virtue is equal to unified knowledge. Now all these sets are necessary to understand Socratic doctrine. Socratic doctrine is not a simple statement merely of a courageous man and a temperate man that is only introduction. At the deeper level Socrates mentions all this important statements which are mentioned here. He has not ignored the problem of will that was our criticism in the first place that Socrates has ignored the problem of will. But if you understand these statements he has not ignored it. His statement is that if you know virtue as a whole, not this virtue or that virtue but unified virtue and if by knowledge you mean not knowledge of this or that, knowledge of this particular or that particular but knowledge as a whole then in that condition knowledge and will become one. Therefore when you know you can immediately act according to the knowledge.

The divergence between knowledge and will exists so long as knowledge is partial and so long as the virtue that you speak of is only a partial virtue. But if you speak of the totality of knowledge and the totality of virtue then there is a complete equation between virtue and knowledge. There is a complete identity of will and knowledge. This is what Socratic doctrine comes to.


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