Socrates and Plato - Session 02 (18 January 2001)

You summarize the argument about justice. All the steps that you have taken so far. Then we can move forward. First argument then he will give the next one. Lion share. That's right, Lion. Lion share. Why …… words for who? Second one is gone for the lawyer and the Labour. What was the argument? It’s about was it fair? If the labour and the lawyer just argues for five minutes but he gets one thousand rupees for that. But the labour works for the whole day and he gets only ten rupees. ……. or you repeat the argument both for and against. So you had said I was in as a lawyer. I have worked and worked much more, worked day and night and so now I should be getting more.

That's right. But then this labourer says I have worked more than three times he knew and still I only get 10 rupees a day. That’s right. Was there any answer whether it was fair or unfair? It was fair that the lawyer wanted as much as he got. If even though the labour have the chance to get an education …… Let us raise this question once again. Is it really fair that the lawyer should get more? then the labour. They should get the same cost and each get our standards. That's right, we had gone further into the depths of death. I had told you the story from the bible. You remember the story from the bible. What was the story? A man gone to the market to get some labourers to do some work. So you have to go to get more labours. Neighbours some more came. The work is done. Not yet started at 8’ O'clock …..

And what did the master say? No Master said, the needs of the first of the first and needs of the last are the same. Therefore I shall pay unto his last,” Unto this last”. As much as I pay unto the first, so the idea was the need. There is a book written by Ruskin. You know Ruskin; he was a great British author. He wrote the book “Unto this Last”. It's the title of the book “Unto this Last”. This phrase is taken from the Bible “Unto this Last” and this book please paying to everybody according to his needs, not according to whether you'll work more or work less. And how do you decide who has worked more and who has worked less? You may work for one hour but intensely. Somebody may work for five hours but loosely. So how do you know, how much should he be paid? His argument was, you go to the needs of the persons and pay to everybody according to the need. The lawyer should be paid according to the need and the labourer also should be paid according to the need. Now this is where we had stopped last time. Now do you think we have reached a good point of decision that everybody should be paid according to the need. Good decision? Now let us go into the depth of this question.

There was a young man who said: I should be paid in terms of a jar, a beautiful jar. I don’t want £10 or £20, I want a jar and a jar was given to him, very costly, he said: I need a jar. He went home and broke it, and the next day he came again and said: give me a jar. I need it that is my need. And every day he broke a jar and said: this is my need. What would you say? He broke the jar and released some stress.

He broke his jar to release some stress! Must be good, that is a good answer. He had stress in his mind therefore he breaks every day and asks to give him a jar the next day, “this is my need”. How much would you respect? If you are going to pay everybody according to his needs you have to consider whether his needs are legitimate or not. Right, so we have to add a little phrase, ‘everybody should be paid according to his legitimate needs.’ So let us add one more word before we come to the idea of justice. Now this word ‘legitimate’ brings in some other ideas, some other dimensions to the question. What is legitimate? Tobean May need after two or three years a good library which might cost let us say 50,000 rupees and he might come to Deepti and say: I need 50,000 rupees because I need. Is it a legitimate need and legitimate demand? Not legitimate? Good that he may demand? So according to this definition legitimate means something that keeps your body in good shape, your physical, material needs are legitimate. We had a very interesting question at one time. We had the need to white wash for our school in Pondicherry. That was one need. There was a need to buy a number of articles for the laboratory; that is also a need; thirdly there was a need to buy costumes for a theatrical performance. The cost of all the three was 50,000 all the three needs rupees and we had only 50,000 rupees. All the three were simultaneous needs. Now how do you decide which of these three needs is legitimate and where do we spend the money? Whitewashing the, equipment for the laboratory and buying the costumes for a theatrical performance. How will you decide which is the legitimate need that becomes difficult, no? Some may argue to keep the school building in good shape, looks beautiful, it’s very nice, very important; some said laboratory equipment is very important. Of course it was argued that if we had no laboratory equipment at all and tomorrow we can’t do laboratory experiments at all, which are very necessary then it was easy to answer the question. But laboratory equipment was of such a nature that last year we did without it, this year also you could do without it, then the question of costumes for a theatrical performance. We went to the Mother and she said: ‘you buy the costumes.’ The experience that you get in your educational process, you can’t repeat the same drama every year to get the experience, every year there is a new drama, you cannot postpone the possibility of an experience, it is educational experience and so she said you spend money on costumes because a certain experience of drama which had to be shared by a large number of people and by the performers was more legitimate than the other two needs. So now you can see that the problem becomes very difficult as you go into the depths of the question of needs. You can see that you will require a greater insight, you cannot judge merely by outer facts which are given to you. Now if this is so then you have a new dimension, you cannot be truly just, unless you have a good insight, right? If you want to decide the legitimate needs you should have insights as to what is a legitimate need. Of course what you said is right, first of course is physical needs are most legitimate, if that was the only question then the answer was very clear. Once Mother told me,—there was somebody who wanted (who was working with me) and he told me to tell Mother that he gave a certain amount of money and said: Mother, I give you this money. And now I want to be given my needs. And then the amount of money that was given was hardly sufficient for even the physical needs but he gave all that he had and then there were some around me who argued this is not enough. Then Mother said: but the question is of nutrition. Nutritive, Mother says in cases that are nutritive. But the question is of nourishment, so don’t mix up with this money that is given and his need for nutrition and Mother sanctioned the food that was to be given to him. So his contribution was not equated with what he could buy in terms of nutrition. Mother said nutrition of course you should give him so if it is only the basic need then the answer is much easier. If there were a distinction to be made between basic need and legitimate need then the answer is easier. But when you have several competing needs which are legitimate then you require a deeper insight to judge what is more legitimate and this is what Plato ultimately came to.

He said you cannot have justice in the society unless you have in the society a few individuals at least, who have deeper insight. You cannot be just unless you have people with deeper insight. You can have all kinds of arguments: this is fair, that is fair, this is unfair etc, etc. and you’ll have many kinds of criteria, many tests you judge whether this is right or wrong, only one who has insight, and then the question was who has insight? And that was the very interesting question, who has the insight? I shall come to this question later on when I deal with Plato. But his answer briefly was only philosophers have insight. His answer was that you should have the knowledge of the whole, of the totality to be able to judge whether a given need is greater or lesser. So only one who has a total vision and who has a total vision—a philosopher. This leads Plato to discuss what is philosophy?

Of course by philosophy he did not mean what he is called dry philosophy, you know there are many philosophers who go on discussing questions in a very abstract manner, he meant by philosophy, what is called wisdom and wisdom has two aspects. First aspect is vision of the whole truth, of the totality and second is the skill to apply that vision in actual daily life, it has two aspects—vision of the whole and the skill to apply that vision in every particular item.

Actually the word philosophy consists of two words,—philo and ’Sophia’. Philo is the love and ’Sophia’ is wisdom, love for wisdom is called philosophy and that is why Plato said that the best that you can do to young people is to teach them philosophy but by philosophy he meant, ‘love for wisdom’.

What you did recently is the first chapter of The Life Divine and the first chapter of The Synthesis of Yoga. The first chapter of The Life Divine was the vision of the truth and the first chapter of The Synthesis of Yoga was the application of that vision in life. This is the real study of philosophy and he declared that philosophers are first to be trained properly and then when they are very well trained and able to apply the vision of the whole in practical life then you make them the guardians. Guardians means those who are able to guard everybody, those who are able to see that everybody is protected, everybody is looked after properly, everybody’s needs are looked after properly, everybody’s needs which are legitimate and then he gave the definition of justice after doing all this. His definition of justice is to place everybody in his right place.

Now I took up this question of justice because I wanted to illustrate the Socratic Method. You remember I pointed out the difference between science and philosophy and I said science seeks facts by method of observation, experimentation, verification and arriving at a general conclusion, whereas in philosophy you start with facts, you don’t seek facts. You start with facts as you will see we took a certain set of facts like a lion is an animal that is killing and then raising the question as to what will be the nature of sharing. So one set of facts we took then we took another set of facts of the lawyer and the labourer and then we took the third set of facts from the story of the Bible and we spoke of ‘unto this last’, then we made a distinction between the various kinds of needs—is also a fact, there are different kinds of needs, legitimate need, there also basic need and legitimate needs is also another set of facts. And then we saw the need for insights which is also a fact and having come to see the insight we came to the conclusion that that is the real insight that knows the place of everyone and places everyone in his right place and this wisdom, is wisdom which is born out of love. philosophy, you should have love for wisdom, you need not study even philosophy to have wisdom; very often like I give another example which Ruskin has given in his book.

There is a small piece of bread which is left in the home—this is an interesting example. The piece of bread left in the home, there is a mother and there are three children, there are four people. The mother is very poor; she has to do a lot of work to get even one more piece of bread. On that unfortunate day she couldn’t get more than one piece of bread, now she had to feed four people, herself and three children. Now Ruskin asks this question: how will the mother distribute one piece of bread, will she make four equal parts, will that be justice? If the pieces are good enough so as to make four equal parts to satisfy some basic need of that day for all of the four, maybe that she will make four equal parts. But as you know children have great appetite and older ones even if they may have appetite they can control their appetite, Isn’t it? Now the mother is inspired by love, which is a very important factor. So now tell me how will she divide that piece of bread?

Three……good, that’s right and that is justice, no idea of justice, no idea of need, it’s inspired by wisdom, inspired by love. So you can now see the real dimension of justice. True justice demands a tremendous love on the part of the one who is to decide. That is why Plato said: that in training young people, you should give to every individual the possibility of the highest knowledge, knowledge of the whole, totality then give them a tremendous training in love, universal love, vast love in which one loses one self, not me first, they first,—those who need most. This is the kind of training he said you should give to young people. Plato was a great educationist.

Actually he wrote one whole book on education and this was his main message, you should train guardians, you should educate the guardians. When they become big then they are full of love, full of wisdom and it is the love that leads them to apply wisdom in every practical field. Now this whole argument is a good philosophical argument. Actually I was only illustrating the method of argument. In philosophy you take different sets of facts, one after the other then you see the implication of every set of facts, you see the assumption behind every set of facts, then compare and contrast these assumptions and implications and as you do so, new insights will keep growing in you. New dimensions will come before you. It is as if something is kindled and you begin to have insight, your vision becomes larger and larger, you begin to see complexity after complexity. And when you arrive at the widest complexity in which all the sets of facts are presented, that is the method of philosophy. And this method Socrates called, Plato called—dialectic, dialectical argument. This process of expanding, by selecting specific sets of facts, trying to see the assumptions and implications from the facts, these two words are very important—assumptions and implications. When a fact is presented you consider the assumptions. When I gave the example of the whitewash of the school building; the need for laboratory equipment and the costumes, there were certain assumptions behind the presentation of these three facts. The assumption was that the school building, although needed whitewash one could be without it for a year. Laboratory equipment was not very pressing. The performance of a drama is basically given for experience and if you don’t perform well then the kind of experience that was to be given would be postponed and maybe that it will never come again, these were the assumptions. It was in this context that you decide questions more important than this or that? So assumptions and implications, so you go on judging the assumptions and implications, until you are able to combine all the facts in a given situation and then arrive at a judgement, this is called dialectic. Having done it, I will ask you one more question.

When we were reading the first chapter of The Life Divine, we had identified one argument as a dialectical argument, now let us recall that argument and see why we had called it dialectical argument. Anybody can recall that argument which we had pointed out as the dialectical argument. If you don’t remember, don’t worry because as I have told you that philosophy is a very interesting and joyous experience in which we often repeat the same thing, until it becomes your second nature. That was an analogical argument.

Dialectical argument……the second paragraph of The Life Divine of the first chapter begins with that argument. Now you recall, you have got the book The Life Divine

Statement of a fact contrasted with another set of facts which contradicts it. Look at the second paragraph, “These persistent ideals God, Light, Freedom and Immortality, these are the persistent ideals of the race. You can see in the previous paragraph, the last phrase is God, Light, Freedom and Immortality,—these are the persistent ideals of the race, that’s a fact.

Now Sri Aurobindo says: "these ideals are contradiction of the normal experience of humanity. This is one fact but they are affirmations of higher and deeper experiences. So there is conflict between two facts: the normal experience and the higher experience. So in the normal experience these ideals are contradictory, in the higher experience they are affirmed. Now as a result of this contradiction and affirmation you must go farther because you can’t rest when you are presented with a contradiction and an affirmation the human mind cannot rest, it must move forward, that is the dialectical movement. Dialectical movement is one in which there is a dynamism and there is a pattern in the dynamism,—affirmation–contradiction, affirmation–contradiction, until you arrive at a final resting place.

As in our case we examined, we were pushed from one stand to the other, from that to another, from that to another until you came to the definition of philosophy,—wisdom and love for wisdom and wisdom is that which sees the whole and which can apply the whole that was our conclusion. Similarly here normal experience contradicts God, Light, Freedom, Immortality, higher experience affirms then there is a battle. Now what is the battle? You open the next page “To the ordinary material intellect”

You have got that phrase towards the end of the second paragraph now you read, “which takes its present organisation of consciousness for the limit of its possibilities, the direct contradiction (between the ideal and the ordinary experience is a proof that ordinary experience is valid and that it contradicts that ordinary experience is invalid. Therefore the ideals are invalid. This is the conclusion of the material intellect. So this is the middle point of the argument. Now then comes the final argument.

“But if we take a more deliberate view of the world’s workings, that direct opposition appears rather as part of Nature’s profoundest method and the seal of her completest sanction.”

Sri Aurobindo now gives a new fact into the picture. What is that? If you look into the meaning of opposition then insight will arise. Just as in our argument about justice we were going on a new set of facts connected with the bread, three children and the mother, a new idea emerges. Similarly, now Sri Aurobindo says that opposition should be looked into and you should ask the question: why is there opposition at all? Is there a meaning in the opposition? That’s right, it is Nature’s profoundest method, it’s a new fact has emerged, new insight. It is that insight which leads us to a new conclusion, right? This is the example of a dialectical argument. So let us define now. Dialectical argument is one in which there is a statement of one set of facts which is compared and contrasted with another set of facts. As a result there emerges the necessity of discovering a new set of facts and this process can go on until you come to a widest vision in which the totality is included and you can then apply the total vision into all the sets of facts which have come up and you get a satisfying answer that is a dialectical argument, alright? It is a good statement of what is a dialectical argument……….

Now it is much more clear as to what is the difference between science and philosophy. We shall repeat now. Science seeks facts based on observation, experimentation, verification and derivation of a conclusion which is universal. I had given the example of the material bodies which are thrown upwards they gravitate downwards. All objects which are thrown upward, all material objects which are thrown upward they naturally gravitate downward, this is a scientific fact. philosophical method is to start with facts and you compare and contrast one set of facts with another set of facts as a result there will be a chain of the need to discover another set of facts until in your argument, you include the whole universe, you arrive at the totality of facts and the insight arises out of it.

This awakening of the insight is wisdom, the insight is wisdom, when totality is presented to you, all the facts are presented you can then see in a vision that is whole and then the insight arises out of it that is philosophical knowledge and that is why it is said the philosophy is learnt by discussion. Why discussion, because some facts which you know I may not be knowing. So when I explain something, you point out that another fact is there, so you bring another set of facts. It is also said therefore that philosophy is best studied by debate. But very often debate takes a form of battle in which one tends to become rigid. I stand on one point of view with one set of facts and I deliberately begin to oppose another point of view that is the evil of a debate. Debate is good provided you do not take a stand and you begin to argue for the sake of winning the argument, not for the search of the truth that is the evil of the method of debate. And good philosophers therefore even when they take recourse to debate they do not allow you to remain in the state of opposition. Sri Aurobindo says: “when in the debate thou hast won remember thou hast missed the chance to know the truth”. If you win in the debate then remember that you have lost the chance to know the truth. Therefore our aim should not be to win in the debate. Our method should be to learn what is the truth? Therefore when you are debating against somebody, try to understand his point of view, assimilate the truth behind his point of view…………

Then you arrive at a more global vision, wider vision.

Question: I have somewhere from Swami Vivekananda that to satisfy the physical hunger of a man is good than to satisfy the physical hunger of the man he might be hungry the next day, to satisfy the intellectual hunger of a man is more deeply satisfying and longer lasting but even better is to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the man which will make him feel no hunger forever. Now somewhere else I had read from Tagore in one of his books; he says you cannot tell a hungry man to admire the beauty of the moon because in the moon he will just find a piece of cheese. So there is a contradiction somewhere, you cannot make a hungry man admire the beauty of the moon.

Answer: these are sets of facts. Actually Vivekananda himself has said you cannot preach Vedanta to a hungry man. That is his solution. The same thing like Tagore saying to the hungry man if you show the beauty of the moon it doesn’t have much meaning. So at different stages this is where now a wise man should come, a philosopher should come and say: there is a hierarchy of needs,—physical, intellectual, and spiritual. So there are three needs so your dialectic has pointed out that there are three needs, the physical need, the intellectual need and the spiritual need and then the wisdom tells us that this hierarchy is such that you cannot lift yourself to the second level as long as your first need is not satisfied. So satisfy first the first need then his intellectual need will demand its satisfaction, then satisfy that one, then satisfy the third one. In India therefore it is said:’artha’and’kama’, the physical and the vital needs are first to be satisfied then comes dharma. When dharma is to be satisfied that is the intellectual and moral need and then you rise to the higher—spiritual, moksha is the last need. But even there the dialectic doesn’t stop here because it is found that if you satisfy the lower needs, your lower needs begin to increase, this is another set of facts. It is true that the basic need has to be satisfied. but when you go to satisfy the basic need a further problem arises, the individual remains stuck there and every time says: Oh! My need is this, my need is this and you go on, one does not rise at all. Therefore a more synthetic proposition is made in India. Even when you satisfy the physical needs, you satisfy them within legitimate bounds, within certain limitation. Don’t satisfy his needs in such a way that he'll become slave to his physical needs therefore it is said that ‘artha’and’kama’right from the beginning should be satisfied under the guidance of ‘dharma.’So ‘dharma’is something that is more important, right from the beginning. You must realise that normally a human being gets enslaved to the physical; so long physical goes on becoming satisfied. The idle becomes idler, much more idle. Somebody wants to sleep for one hour more, you allow him; the next day he wants to sleep even more. You allow him, on the third day he wants to sleep even more, therefore a wise teacher knows, you should allow the child to sleep but you should also know how to keep him awake at the right moment and don’t allow him to fall again and again. At a certain time you should say: no, now I will not allow you to sleep any more, have control, get up: right? So dharma is very important. So the dialectic is satisfied now, your dilemma is satisfied, if the idea of self–control is given to everybody and everybody is told that physical needs are to be satisfied within limits and you should explain to the child, why limits? Because you say that if I allow you to satisfy your physical needs you will never grow upwards. So if you want to grow upwards, I give you the satisfaction of your needs, every good mother knows it very well, every good mother gives a sweetmeat to the child but in such a way that the child does not go on and on and on asking for it; also there is a limit. If you do this I will give you a lollipop, not otherwise, so it’s a dharma, a higher thing you do then I will give you this lower thing. So the dialectic will take you to this solution of the dilemma that always you move upwards, until you move upward right up to the moksha and even there you don’t stop, you give the ideal of perfection. After liberation you come back again, liberated action in which all action whether you do or not makes no difference to you and yet you do it, out of what?’Lokasamgraha Out of love for the people so anything that is inspired by love, universal love. Bertrand Russell has given a very good definition of good life,—a good life is guided by knowledge and inspired by love. If you combine these two together, you’ll get a good definition of a good life. It is a Platonic definition. You arrive at the dialectical process, arrive at the widest vision that is knowledge and then be inspired by love ’philos’, not only ’Sophia’ but ’philos’ also. So combine love for wisdom both the elements should be present, it is what we have in a larger way, you combine knowledge with ‘Bhakti,’ ‘gyana’ with ‘Bhakthi’ and allowed these to flow into action, into ‘karma’.So you combine knowledge, love and action that is the highest that you can conceive of. Alright, that is how the dilemma can be overcome.

We can now return to our reading of Socrates. Now Socrates used to use his method of dialectic and this is now what we are reading. On page no. 2 (in the middle of the paragraph.)

Socrates used to go to the market and ask questions to the passers–by. But his questions were so deep that many young people found in him a great teacher. He had therefore gathered around him a band of young people who used to go to him for learning. One of these young men was Plato, his chief disciple and one of the greatest philosophers of the world.

Socrates had a friend whose name was Archibiadis. Once he went to the oracle of Delphi whom he asked if there was any one wiser than Socrates. Now what is the oracle of Delphi? There was a temple in Delphi, where there used to be priests and they had certain powers, powers of wisdom. So it was believed that the priest was in a certain state of consciousness, if he answered a question, the answer would be correct. So many people used to go to Delphi and put questions and get answers and the answers used to be so correct every time that people had come to accept that whatever Delphi oracle said would be correct. So one day Archibiadis went to the Oracle and said: is there anybody who is wiser than Socrates? And Oracle said: no. and when he came back he reported to Socrates. Let us read.

The oracle said that there was none. On hearing this, Archibiadis was very pleased and told Socrates what the oracle had spoken to him. But when Socrates heard this he was greatly puzzled. (He was not flattered, he was greatly puzzled) He thought that he knew nothing and yet he could not believe that the god Apollo could be wrong. He therefore went about among those people who were famous for their wisdom. First he went to a politician who was thought wise by many and regarded himself as still wiser. But Socrates found out that he had no wisdom. Then he knew, he then went to poets and asked them to explain their poems. But they could not. Then he knew that poets do not write by wisdom but only by genius and inspiration. Then he went to the artisans, but found that they too were not wise. Finally he concluded: “God alone is wise; the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing. I am called the wisest among men; but that is not because I have wisdom. Others too have no wisdom and yet think they have it, whereas I have no wisdom but know that I do not have it. This is the truth of the oracle.”

You found his answer. Why was Socrates wisest? He found that actually neither he nor others are wise. What is the difference between the two, him and the others? Others were not wise but they did not know that they were not wise. As far as he is concerned he knows that he is not wise and he also believes that he is not wise, therefore he is wiser than others. Therefore the Oracle was correct that was his conclusion.

But during this inquiry, Socrates showed the people whom he interviewed their ignorance and this embittered many. Already many elderly philosophers and politicians of Athens were afraid of the great influence that Socrates wielded over the young people. They therefore brought a charge against him. They said: “Socrates is an evil–doer and a curious person, searching into things under the earth and above the heaven; and making the worse appear the better, and teaching all this to others”. I repeat because this is the charge against Socrates. Socrates is an evil doer and a curious person searching into the things under the earth and above the heaven and making the worse appear the better and teaching all this to others.

They held that Socrates was guilty of not worshipping the gods of the State and inventing new gods. They further said that he was guilty of corrupting the young by teaching them wrong things.

In his dialogue, ’Apology’, Plato has described the trial of Socrates. Socrates defended himself. But his accusers were not open to reason. They had not been trained in dialectic; they could not arrive at the right conclusion.

He was therefore sentenced to death. In those times, it was a custom that the wife and children of the accused would come before the court; they would cry and beg of the judges to lessen the punishment. But Socrates was not afraid of death and he was sure within himself that he was not guilty. He therefore prevented his wife and children from coming to the court for pleading. On the contrary, he said, “Those of us who think that death is an evil are in error. For death is either a dreamless sleep or the soul migrates to another world. In the next world, I will converse with Hesiod and Homer; and in that world they do not put men to death for asking questions”.

And then he added: “The hour of departure has come, and we go our ways—I to die and you to live. Which is better God alone knows.”

Socrates was cheerful up to the last minute of his life. When he was given hemlock to drink, he took it without any complaint or sorrow. Within a few minutes, his limbs became cold and thus ended the great life of Socrates.