Socrates and Plato - Track 103

When the Vedic Rishis vanished and what arose was ritualism not rationalism but ritualism, so Vedic mysticis, then ritualism and then there could have developed rationalism, there could have developed rationalism but that did not happen. What happened was another wave of mysticism. It is a very special characteristic of Indian history, after mysticism came the period of ritualism and then came another period of mysticism, – that is the period of the Upanishads. So mysticism, ritualism, mysticism and then came the period of rationalism after the Upanishads. This is how you can distinguish in the mind clearly the course of knowledge in the East and the West, at least in India and in the West so in the West mysticism followed by rationalism, in India mysticism, ritualism, mysticism and rationalism.

So now let now read.

One of the greatest of the Greeks was Socrates who is known as the father of Philosophy. His early life is not much known but he must have lived a disciplined life right from early boyhood. We are told that he had a great power of endurance and could bear extreme cold and heat. He was a sturdy soldier and had shown remarkable skill and valour in several battles. It is, however, said that he was very ugly; he had a snub nose and a considerable belly.

Fredrick once wrote an article on Socrates which we shall read later on in which he had said: he had a considerable belly he wanted to reduce by dancing.

He was always dressed in shabby old clothes and went barefoot everywhere. But he was a profound thinker and philosopher. Even when he went to serve in the Army, he used to spend his time in thinking. One morning, while he was on military service, he was thinking about something. He thought and thought over some problem which he could not solve. He would not give up and continued thinking from early dawn until noon – he stood fixed in thought; at noon when attention was drawn to him all people began to wonder at him. At last, after supper some people brought out their mats and slept in the open air to watch him and see whether he would stand all night. There he stood until the following morning; and with the return of light he offered a prayer to the sun, and went his way.

At another time, Socrates and his friend Aristodemus went together to a banquet, but on the way Socrates went into a trance and dropped behind. When Aristodemus arrived at the feast, he was asked by the host: “What have you done with Socrates?” Aristodemus was astonished to find that Socrates was not with him; in those days rich people used to have slaves; so a slave was sent to look for him. The slave returned and said: “There he is fixed, and when I called him he would not stir. Those who know him well explain that he has a way of stopping anywhere and losing himself without any reason”. Socrates came only when the feast was half over. Socrates was a great seeker of truth and he had developed a method of enquiry which has come to be known as the Socratic Method. This method, which is also called dialectic, consists of arriving at conclusions by question and answer.

You remember when we were reading the first chapter of The Life Divine we had noticed one argument and called it dialectical argument. The beginning of the dialectical argument is in Socrates. The word dialectical, it consisted of question and answer.

 Socrates used to begin an enquiry by saying that he knew nothing or very little about the subject of enquiry. Then he would invite certain notions or definitions of the subject under enquiry; this would be followed by presenting some difficulties in accepting those notions or definitions; he would then suggest some modifications or present some new hypothesis followed by fresh discussions. Quite often the discussions would end in stimulating questions instead of arriving at conclusions. But when he would arrive at any conclusions, it would be only after examining the subject freely and from as many points of view as possible. This method seems to have been practised by Zeno, the disciple of Parmenides. For if we read Plato's dialogue, Parmenides, (it is also the name of a dialogue of Plato) we find that Zeno uses the same kind of dialectic as Socrates uses elsewhere in other dialogues of Plato. But there is no doubt that Socrates developed this method and, through Plato it has determined to a very large extent the form of subsequent philosophy.

There is a fundamental distinction between science and philosophy; (we have done this earlier, – a distinction between science and philosophy. I think Anandmayi has got the definitions of both the words – science and philosophy but not now, anyway.)

Science seeks facts and the laws governing them, while philosophy attempts to interpret and evaluate the facts from the point of view of the whole. Evidently, the Socratic Method is not the scientific method; for it presupposes the prior existence of notions or definitions about the subject under inquiry; it does not arrive at new facts. What the method attempts to do is to examine the given facts and notions from various points of view, for although in philosophy nothing is to be taken for granted it cannot and does not originate in a vacuum. There must already be some glimpse of light in the human mind which would initiate philosophical reflection. This glimpse may be either in the form of a personal experience or in the form of a word or to use Indian terminology shruti, heard from the lips of man of experience or realization. In Indian philosophy, the authority given to shruti is higher than that given to any other mode of knowledge except that of direct experience or realization. In many ways, therefore, the Socratic Method and the Indian philosophical method are similar.

I shall now make some comments on this, very important paragraph.

Socrates is a philosopher and not a scientist that is because Socrates did not follow the method of science, his aim also was not the aim of science. Science discovers facts, its aim is to discover facts and the method is observation, experimentation and verification. Observation, experimentation and verification, these are the three steps of any scientific process. After verification you arrive at a conclusion which is normally in the form of a universal statement. All bodies thrown upwards gravitate downward – this is a scientific statement. This is a conclusion derived from an experiment which anybody can do. You throw a stone upwards and you will find the stone falling down. So all statements of science are in the form of universal statements but they are arrived at by observation, experimentation and verification.

Now in philosophy you do not seek facts, facts are already taken for granted. You start with facts, you don’t try to seek facts, you start with facts or you start with an idea or you start with a word then you discuss the word, discuss the idea. Let us take an example: there is a great book written by Plato, which is called Republic. It is supposed to be one of the greatest books of the world. One of the highest points of thought ever reached by human beings is contained in this book called Republic; it’s a philosophical book, why? Because it starts with an idea, with one word, it is the examination of an idea from many points of views; it starts with an idea of justice, what is justice? Now we can ourselves write a book on philosophy without reading Plato, if you just think about this word – justice. We can have ourselves a dialogue among us and you can immediately start philosophising, which we shall do now, so have a complete experience about philosophising in the Socratic Method. We use the word justice very often, No? This is just, this is unjust, this is fair, this is unfair. Now tell me one answer: what is justice? Whatever answer comes to your mind, you start with it.

Alright, something that is fair. Then in the Socratic Method, you ask the question: what is fair? What is unfair? When do you say this is fair? We have a very good example of what is called lion’s share. You have heard this expression? If there is something to be shared between the lion and another animal then what is fair in sharing, both have worked together in killing an animal, lion and another animal. Now both of them have now decided to share and we ask the question what is fair? Lion says: look my strength is so great that this animal could not have been killed merely by your puny strength, I am the king of all animals, my strength is tremendous. Could you have killed this animal yourself? Look at me, I could have killed myself but I allowed you a little share, you also jumped with me a little, now what is fair in this share, tell me? How much should the lion take of that animal, equal – would it be fair? Half of the share goes to lion, another half goes to the other animal, what is your answer, this is a philosophical question.