Socrates and Plato - Session 13 (12 September 2001)

I shall first summarise what I have told you last time about Plato. I told you three small little things:

First, Plato was a student of Socrates and he had already had a series of lectures on Socrates already, particularly his theory that, you will tell me what was his theory?

His theory was ‘Virtue is Knowledge’, we have spoken of it at length according to him. In order to be virtuous you must have knowledge and knowledge of the highest.

Secondly that you may not be virtuous unless you have all the virtues united in you. You can’t be courageous unless you are benevolent at the same time, you can’t be benevolent unless you are truthful at the same time, you can’t be grateful unless you are sincere at the same time. It is only when all virtues are united that you can be called virtuous, till that time you may be on the path of virtue but not yet virtuous. Similarly, you cannot have knowledge unless you have total knowledge. You can’t say I know the world but I don’t know what is soul, I know the soul but I don’t know what is the world, you can’t say I know the world but I don’t know God, I know God but I don’t know the world. As long as you say I don’t know this it is not yet knowledge, it is only when you have the fullness of knowledge that you can say I have knowledge. So when you can equate all knowledge on one side and all virtues on the other side then there is a union and that is ‘virtue is knowledge’. This is in substance what I told you at length last time. So that is the first thing that I have spoken of while introducing to you Plato.

The second thing is that Plato is one of the most important things to be learnt in regard to the whole story of thought of the world, not only of Greece to which he belonged, not only to Europe which has inherited Plato so largely but history of thought of the whole world. So if you don’t know Plato, you cannot know the history of thought and that is why I put before you a special study of Plato. I told you that there is a great philosopher of the present time. He wrote a very beautiful sentence about Plato and said that the entire history of Western philosophy is nothing but a footnote to Plato. You know the meaning of a footnote? Footnote is what is usually seen at the bottom of any page where there is some asterix mark and some note is given there that is called a footnote, a note at the foot, foot of the page that is called a footnote. So he said that the whole history of Western philosophy is nothing but a footnote to Plato, Plato is the main substance and the whole other history of thought is simply a footnote. So this is to show the importance of Plato’s influence on the philosophy of the West. So that if you do not know Plato, in any case you don’t understand the whole history of Western philosophy, it is the second thing that I have told you about.

The third thing that I have told you about was the place of Plato in the history of thought, at least of Western thought. Now this I have shown you in some detail but I shall repeat it because it is very important. I have said that Plato is something like a sunset not sunrise, that is to say Plato comes in the evening of civilisation not in the morning of civilisation. The morning of civilisation starts with the lives of the sun that means much before Plato civilisation had started and the sun had risen to a great height and then they began the decline and at the time of Plato it was about sun was about to set, it was sunset. Now you see the sunset. It is full of splendour, what had happened in the morning when there is the dawn this will be seen also in the evening. The sun as it were becomes golden and casts its rays, you can see the rays of the sun and beautiful colours are spread over the sky so it almost looks like the beginning of the day. If you are not aware of all that happened in the past you may say here is the sunrise, it’s almost like that. So when you read Plato you see so much of splendour in it that you might say here is the beginning.

But if you study the whole history then you’ll find, Oh! It is the evening light but in the evening also the sun casts its great splendour and that is the splendour you find in Plato. After Plato of course it was an evening and then gradually the light began to fade out and then in the history of thought you find night coming and then there was midnight, this is called the medieval period of the West. It is called the Age of Darkness and then comes again after midnight, and then once again if you study the history of Western thought then there is another dawn, sunrise.

This is what is called the period of renaissance, in the fifteenth century the renaissance started and since then mankind has been going to a morning and now what we are preparing for the noons for the future. You know Sri Aurobindo has said: “We do not belong to the dawns of the past but the noons of the future”, we are now preparing for the noons. So we all who are the children of the present age are the children preparing for the noon. So from the historical perspective we must understand our own place just as we understand the place of Plato, similarly we should understand our own place in the history of development. We are all children; Sri Aurobindo has spoken of all of you as sun–eyed children. You have eyes of the sun and when your eyes are made of the sunlight that is a gift as if the whole civilisation has given a gift and you are therefore the sun–eyed children. It is a big responsibility also; it’s a great gift because we have to be really sun–eyed, we have to be very brilliant in your eyes.

So to come back to Plato, Plato happens as a splendid light of the sun when it was about to set, when evening sunset of light, so splendid, so marvellous that it can be dazzling, you know. So when we study Plato you will see this splendour of light in Plato but you have to remember that he was actually a child as compared to some forefathers who had great kinds of light. There is a big theory of the Western development. It is said that in the beginning there was the rule of Apollo. You know Apollo is a Greek god; he is called the Greek god of sunlight. So in the beginning was the rule of Apollo then came a period when the kingdom was given to Pallas Athena. Athena is a goddess of Reason. Reason is supposed to be only a ray of light. Sun is a light of multitudes of rays whereas Reason is only one ray. So see the difference between the rule of Apollo and the rule of Athena. So after the rule of Apollo it set down and then came the rule of Athena, after the sunlight, after the luminous knowledge in the West as in the East there came a period of the rule of Athena. It is because of that reason we have got the word Athens. Athens is even today the capital of Greece and the word Athens has come from Athena because Athens was created to worship Athena. She was the goddess of Reason and ran, helped the rule of Reason with a pinnacle of the highest light, the highest splendour Athens rose to the height of this world. So we have therefore at the time of particularly Pericles, Pericles is a name to be remembered. Pericles was one of the leaders of Greece and when Pericles ruled Athens, Athens reached the great heights of its climax. After the reaching of the height came a downward curve and then came Plato in the downward curve. There is a very beautiful poem written by Sri Aurobindo perhaps if we have time we shall read together the whole poem, when we have long patience of sitting down for eight hours at a stretch then we shall read that poem because it is a poem which should be read at a stretch, it is called Ilion; llion means Troy. One of the greatest events of world history is the siege of Troy, when Troy was attacked; there was a siege so many enemies surrounded Troy. When you go to your Atlas and try to find out where Troy is, you’ll find Greece on one side then you’ll find a sea because Greece was on the coast they defended. And then there is the sea and on the other side facing Greece on the eastern side is a series of mountains called Mount Ida. Mount Ida and its portion of an area which was called Phrygia, Phrygia. So on the top of the hill of Ida was this golden town called Troy. Troy had reached a very great height of glory and splendour and wealth. It was a town full of golden towers as it were, so much wealth. It was a town given to the worship of Apollo, of light and it was a town of laughter and joy, so wealth, light and joy. This was the glory of Troy.

In twelve hundred BC, you can imagine 1200 BC is a very ancient time from our point of view because it was in 1200 BC in Phrygia, on the mountain called Ida, on the banks of a river called Xanthus, on the banks of a river called Xanthus was this small town or a big town you might say considering the present day it was a small town but in those times it was a very big town called Ilion or Troy or Trove or Troya, these are different names given to the same town sometimes you have the word Troad for Troya or Troy or Ilion—name of the story written by Homer. Homer is a great poet who was at the time of the Trojan war of the siege of Troy or little later or much later we do not know exactly. Homer was one of the greatest poets of human history. He wrote about this siege of Troy and that is a very big book called the Iliad. It is the story of Ilion that is why it is called Iliad. So it is this story in which Apollo was ruling yet but this rule of Apollo was already on the decline even at that time because of even of this great glory of Troy was towards the end, it was about to end, Apollo was already going to retire, he was told by the supreme God, you have had enough of your rule now you have to retire and that time he was preparing to retire. So this whole story of the siege of Troy is a beautiful story to be read. You know yesterday Deepti was asking me about the significance of the bombardment of New York yesterday night. So immediately I remembered Sri Aurobindo’s poem Ilion when something reaches a certain height but not integrally, then the savage forces destroy and remind them that your perfection is not perfection. You may feel proud that you are perfect but you are not perfect there is still something to be conquered you have not conquered therefore the savage barbarian rises and destroys a civilisation or attempts to destroy a civilisation so that humanity may awake and prepare for a greater development. So Troy had reached a very great glory and then the Greeks (at that time the Greeks were savages now we speak of Greece as very civilised people but at that time Greeks were savages, they were barbarians and they invaded Troy, Trojans were civilised people. The Trojans were invaded by the barbarians and ultimately Troy fell and was ruined, destroyed and thereafter Apollo retired and the Athena began to rise and then the Greek civilisation arose.) That is why Sri Aurobindo says: the siege of Troy led to the creation of Hellas. (Hellas means Greece.) So fall of Troy led to the development of Greece that is the sequence of the development of the story. So in that reign of Hellas or of Greece after reaching the heights in the time of Pericles, then came decline and then came Plato, this is the second point which I wanted to emphasise; I have not spoken of all last time and I am adding something more than what I had said last time of Plato but this a part of the understanding of Plato.

Now the third point which I had made about Plato was that he had declared the key to the permanence of civilisation. He was very much concerned about the rise of civilisation, decline of civilisation, fall of civilisation, destruction of civilisation and he was asking the question: why does this happen? And his answer was that philosophers are not trained. He said: if people become philosophers and if they become kings then there will be no decline, no fall, no destruction there will be a continuous noon, continuous light of the day. He was very famous for his declaration that philosophers must be the kings or kings must become philosophers, either of the two, either philosopher should be the king or kings must become philosophers this was his vision, vision which is not easy to materialise that is why it is called utopia. The utopia is to be remembered. What is a utopia? A vision so great, not very easy to achieve, not easy to materialise, not easy to realise that is called utopia. The beautiful vision of the future in which everything is so beautiful and truthful and splendid makes a beautiful picture. Many of you are artists one day make a beautiful picture of an utopia where everything is bright and wonderful and beautiful, imagine such an existence where everything is so smooth and harmonious, it’s a rule of love and harmony, everybody trusts everybody else there is no jealousy there is all co–operation, all brotherly, all existing together in a great harmony then it’s like a symphony therefore symphony, how beautiful, how wonderful, everything synchronised, everything synchronises. All melodies and harmonies come together. So like that in every beautiful symphony Plato spoke of that great harmony, great utopia.

The three things I spoke to you about last time when I had read about Plato. Now we shall read again what we had read already and we shall go through it very rapidly. We shall read rather rapidly in the sense that if you do not raise any question at the end of every paragraph I shall assume that you have understood and we shall go to the next paragraph. If you have a question then raise your hand and put a question then I shall stop. Right, so let us read.

The history of thought may, in a sense, be regarded as an account of the cyclical movement of the modes of knowledge: sensation, perception, reason, intuition and still higher modes of cognition. At different periods one or another of these predominates and asserts its own truth and standards of truth. Thus we have the age of intuition such as that of the Veda and the Upanishad, the age of mixed intuition and reason such as that of the Darshanas in the East and that of Socrates and Plato in the West, the age of Pure Reason as that of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz and Kant, and the age of the senses as that of Locke and Hume and Logical Positivism.

We shall stop for two minutes if you have questions. Here I have given the entire history of thought of the whole world in one paragraph. It is a difficult paragraph if you don't fully understand it does not matter but if you're grasped a little I’ll be satisfied but if you have a question I shall be very happy to take up the question. I think since it's a difficult paragraph I shall think that it would be necessary to read once again but now I shall try to save my lung power and if somebody else reads out I shall be very happy. Is there anyone here who volunteers to read the first paragraph?

The literal thought made in a sense the regard as an account movement with multiple knowledge. Sensation, Perception, reason and intuition and still higher amounts of information. The different periods of number is to dominate and insert your own truth and standard requests in the presence positivism good in the first place there are many names given here veda propane darshana socrates plato descartes spinoza so many names

Now these names are very difficult to remember or to understand. So if your questions about them don't raise questions now because each one will require five lectures each word. Because if you speak on Descartes I have to give five lectures on Descartes. On logical positivism at least 10 lectures I have to give 10 lectures on logical positivism. So it doesn't matter you can simply hear the present papers but these are landmarks in the history of ….

When you learn all this you think that now you have done something our custom thoughts so that's why I said in one paragraph you have the whole gamut of history of thought put down together these are the pegs to be remembered. What is important to remember at this stage is that there are modes of knowledge. What is the meaning of modes of knowledge? Modes of cognition. Do you know the word cognition? What is cognition? When you open your eyes and see the objects then it seems it means that you have cognized objects you have got the word recognition. Recognition is to cognize again to cognize is to see for the first time to grasp that is called cognition when you hear a sound it is sound is cognized when you taste a chocolate it is cognition of the chocolate the taste of the chocolate is a cognition so there are many objects to be cognized to be known now there are modes of cognition there are objects of cognition and there are modes of cognition the taste of a chocolate is the object of cognition but the tongue is the mode of the instrument by which you cognize and the way by which the tongue sucks the chocolate and gets a taste of it is called the mode of cognition. So there is an object of cognition, there is an instrument of cognition and then there is the mode of cognition. The way in which the tongue cognizes the taste is not the way in which the eyes cognize the objects; the objects are cognized by the eyes by seeing not by tasting by seeing. Music is heard music is cognized not by eyes but by ears instruments are different the ears cognize the sounds and the mode of cognition is the year spreading itself on the sound and grasping the sound that is the mode of cognition. So there are modes of cognition. Sensation, perception, reason and intuition are the four words used. Four words to recognize our modes of cognition you can cognize either by sensation or by perception or by reason or by intuition. Now there are periods in the history of thought when people cognize mainly through sensation or mainly through perception or mainly through reason or mainly through intuition. So if you have a period in which people are largely using reason you can see some age of reason. If people are largely learning by intuition you can see it's an age of interest. If people are largely trying to understand things by sensation you can see it is the age of sensation so depending upon the mode of cognition the whole age can be described the entire period or cycle of periods can be described in those terms. so if you read the history of thought of the world you will find the age of sensation the age of perception the age of reason the age of intuition When Apollo rules it is the age of intuition as in the case of Veda, Upanishads and the period of troy it was the age of intuition or even before troy pre-troy period it was age of intuition. Then came the age of reason when ethnic began to rule the world in the west particularly so the age of reason started and when there was no cognition at all the age of darkness and then started again the age of reason. In the west when the age of reason started you have Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz these are the three great philosophers who came when the age of reasons started in the west. When the age of sensation came in the west then you had the philosophers like Loch, Berkeley and Hume and the present day also is the age of sensation logical positivism. So this is all that I have said in the first paragraph to give you the whole panoramic picture of the history of thought in the world.

Now in this cyclical movement we come to the second paragraph. Yes. Just one small question. The word perception is not clear. Sensation reason… Sensation and perception are very closely related when you perceive. When you recognize sensational sensation is perception as long as there's only sensation but you are still not conscious, it's a sensation. It is pure sensation. When you say there is a sensation it is perception. Sensation recognises a sensation is perception. All right? The two are very closely connected together. When you simply hear the music and you're absorbing music it is sensation but then when you recognize music it is perception. When you heard the news yesterday night there was a smashing of the tower of the world centre of trade it was first we were shocked a big sensation now we are perceiving it at this moment.

Now we go to the next paragraph. In this cyclical movement the age to which tattoo belongs was a period when intuitive knowledge was receding into the background and making way for the free play of reason and it's a light instrument. So this is the second age as it were first was the age of intuition and then came the age of reason. Plato is a point where intuition was receding and reason was ascending. The early age of Greece was the age of the mystery, where there was a supreme reign of occult and intuitive knowledge. Apollo was still active in the first period of Greece and Troy. Before the Greeks even invaded. There was this age of intuition even after the siege of Troy even after the fall of Troy even when reason began to ascend there was still a great period of intuition.

When we come to Pythagoras, this supremacy is lost, but still intuition predominates. In Socrates we find a child of the Mystics capable of intuitive knowledge and contacting and following an inner voice, the ‘Daemon’; but his methods of inquiry have already become rational and dialectical and in effect he initiates the rational movement in Western philosophy.

If you read Socrates you will find he was guided by conscience by intuition. We have read the trial of Socrates, you remember the trial of Socrates, he spent days and days in reading the defence of Socrates—’Apology’; in which he said I have a daemon within me whenever I am about to do something if it is wrong it comes forward and tells me ‘don’t do it, it is wrong’, not reason it is intuition directly, intuitive knowledge that was the power of Socrates. So he was a mystic. Mystic is the one who is ruled by intuition. A philosopher is the one who is ruled by reason, that's the difference between a mystic and a philosopher. A mystic is the one who is ruled by intuition. A philosopher is the one who is ruled by reason. So Socrates was still a kind of a mystic but he was already becoming a rational philosopher, his method was already dialectical. A dialectical argument is one in which one set of facts is set against another set of facts and are compared. The implications of one set are compared with the implications of another set and out of the comparison a new set of implications arises. A new set of perceptions, a new set of facts emerges. Now this can go on, on and on this is called dialectical movement. Implications of one set compared with implications of another set and then the two are brought together and a third set emerges. There is first a thesis and then there is anti–thesis and then there is synthesis. This movement of moving from thesis to anti–thesis and anti–thesis to synthesis and again this synthesis becomes a thesis and out of that arises another anti–thesis and then comes another synthesis and on and on and on. This kind of movement is called dialectical movement, dialectical argument. Just open the second paragraph of The Life Divine and you’ll find this dialectical argument in which you’ll find one set of facts set against the second set of facts and out of which a synthesis of a third set of facts is taken out. Now this kind of movement is specially the movement of reason not of intuition. When reason begins to operate you’ll find dialectical movement, wherever there is dialectical there is reason, where there is reason there is a dialectical movement of thought. So this movement started with Socrates in the history of thought.

Yet in his most important doctrines such as that of ‘Virtue is Knowledge’ he identifies knowledge with the knowledge belonging to spiritual consciousness. And in his life we find him being moved and motivated by the high ethical and spiritual sense. But when we come to Plato, we find that the mystic tendency is on the wane, (you’ve seen the moon, moon waxes and wanes. First half of the bright part of the month the moon waxes, becoming bigger and bigger until it reaches the size of a full moon. Then comes the second fortnight in which the moon size begins to wane, the moon becomes smaller and smaller and in the end there is no moon at all. Similarly mysticism began to wane because like the second part of the month for the moon of spiritual light it began to wane. “We find that the mystic tendency is on the wane, although the setting sun of mysticism casts its gold on the horizon and we find in Plato a most captivating combination of mysticism and reason.

I think I could have continued longer but since I needed rest, if you allow me I shall stop here today and we shall meet again tomorrow. All right. Thank you.