Socrates and Plato - Session 06 (24 January 2001)

Agree do you not agree? Let me write down simple question we agree will not agree, agreed yes, good. I also agreed. But you have to explain by knowledge we mean right Unity of virtue, universal knowledge—you have to explain this otherwise people might misunderstand that you agree wrongly. This is what Socrates meant when he said ‘virtue is knowledge’ and therefore we agree with it. But if you put another interpretation on it then there are bound to be difficulties.

Now I want to ask questions when I come back again in February. I will put questions to you.

Got it? Yes. Read it out to me. How does the ego act when it is ignorant to power that always acts? How does the ego act when? When it is ignorant to the powers that act always. In a complete sentence no? Anybody has got a complete sentence? How does evil act when it is ignorant acts from the higher, ignorant act? Yeah, that is right ignorant act, the higher power always acts.

Good only because of the word “act” there was a mistake.

So let it be the first question in our question bank. Second question is, maybe we should just repeat this question with some students. Let it repeat, you can repeat this. How does the ego act if it is ignorant of the higher power that always acts? Everybody has written down yeah.

Now second question

So let us write down a few questions.

One question I had already dictated to you at one time, I don’t know if you remember it or if you have recorded it. If you have, I would like you to read it out.

1) How does the ego act when it is ignorant of the higher power that always acts?

2) What are the three stages of the Integral yoga and the role of the personal effort in these three stages? What is the meaning of utsaha?

3) Who is the Supreme Guide of the Integral yoga? Define the ishta devata?

4) “My God, my incarnation, my Prophet, my Guru”—how to correct this exclusive tendency?

5) Example, instruction, and influence: explain these three terms.

6) What is the method and system of the teacher of the Integral yoga?

7) What is time?

8) When is time an enemy? When is it an instrument?

9) What is the ideal attitude towards time?

10) What is the greatness of Socrates?

11) What was the accusation brought against Socrates?

12) What is the meaning of a sophist and what is the meaning of sophistry?

13) Virtue is knowledge: do you agree? Why?

Now the last question which will be given to everybody and you have to write at least one full page on it.

Now we come to this, we have finished. So we come to The ‘Apology’. This paper I told you to read the last two paragraphs which I assume you have done. No exam.

Question: Is knowledge virtue?

Is knowledge virtue? The answer is knowledge expresses itself in virtue. Virtue is knowledge in the sense that virtue depends on knowledge. Now if you reverse it, you reverse it saying knowledge manifests itself in virtue. Whenever you have the right consciousness there would be a right action. It’s like this. There is a relationship between knowledge and action, knowledge is always the foundation, and action is always the manifestation. So when you say they are equal it is an equality of a special kind. There is a truth consciousness which is equal to knowledge and right action is equal to virtue. When you say knowledge, knowledge is truth consciousness. Yesterday we had come to the conclusion that knowledge is a state of consciousness in which the universal truth is known, not partial but universal truth is known. That is how we had defined knowledge yesterday. Knowledge is a state of consciousness in which the whole of the truth is known not partial but the whole of the truth is known and that is truth consciousness. Is always the foundation. Action is always a manifestation. So whenever you speak of this equation, this equation has its speciality, knowledge is foundation, virtue is the manifestation. So when you want to define it you have to say—virtue depends upon knowledge, knowledge does not depend upon virtue. But knowledge manifests itself as virtue. This is the equation. There is a beautiful sentence of the Mother regarding herself and Sri Aurobindo:

Without him, I exist not; without me, he is unmanifest.

6 May 1957

The Mother, Words of the Mother - I: Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

This is the equation. “Without him I exist not”— my own existence has its basis in him but he does not therefore exist because of me that is very important. He exists in his own right, for my existence I will depend upon him but for manifestation he depends upon me. Without me he remains unmanifest: this is an equation, this is a very special kind of equation that is the relationship between the foundation and manifestation. All over the world wherever you see, you will find this duality, the foundation and the manifestation. The foundation does not depend for its existence upon manifestation but manifestation always depends upon the foundation. Is that clear?

Now I read to you one of the greatest dialogues in the history of the world, it is called ’Apology’. If you read this account, you get one of the good foundations of Western philosophy that is why I am reading it to you personally so that I don’t leave it to you to read at home. I want to read with you, so that I am sure you‘ve read it or I want to enjoy reading with you. I am sure you will read at home but I want to enjoy reading it with you. Now this dialogue is written by Plato. Plato was a young man when Socrates was tried. When he was accused and brought before the court, already he was his disciple and he was greatly troubled by the trial of Socrates and the judgement which was arrived at, at the end of the trial and then the execution of Socrates, the death of Socrates. And therefore Plato has written three dialogues. Actually this is one, it is followed by another dialogue called ’Crito’. ‘Apology’, ‘Crito’ and ’Phaedo’—in fact all the three dialogues should be read by everybody in our class but I’ll read with you only this one ’Apology’. And the other two, I’ll ask you to read at home when you find time. In ’Apology’, you have the trial of Socrates. The accusation made by the prosecutors then the reply of Socrates, his defence then the verdict given by the judges and his statement after the verdict, this is in ’Apology’.

In ’Crito’, the main character is ’Crito’—one of the disciples of Socrates. There is an account of how when Socrates was in jail before execution his disciples and friends make an arrangement so that Socrates can escape from the jail secretly, he won’t be caught and once he goes to another city there was another government so this government has no rule over it; so Socrates could escape punishment and can remain alive. So when this plot is given to Socrates, Socrates refuses it even though it was possible for him to escape, he refuses in the secret conspiracy and says that I’ll face death but I’ll not do something that is not correct, that is the bravery and the greatness of Socrates.

In ’Phaedo’, it’s the third dialogue, these are the last moments of Socrates where he is surrounded by his disciples in the jail and he talks to them on the importance of next life and what is immortality, very important text of Socrates—what is immortality— and he discusses as if it is literally before him. There is no anguish, no anxiety, no attachment of any kind; he discourses as usual with a great force and youthfulness and then when the cup of hemlock (the poison) is brought to him, at the appointed hour he receives the cup, he drinks it very quietly, without any kind of compulsion or any resistance. After drinking it he lies down and gradually the poison begins to work, he begins to say that now my lower parts have become numb and when numbness will invade near my heart that will be the end of my life and gradually the poison spreads in his body and just before his death he calls a disciple and says: that he owes a cock to somebody, at the last moment he remembers that a debt is to be paid and then that disciple says that will be paid that is the last breath of Socrates. It’s a very moving picture of a man who even at the last moment remembers a debt to be paid and makes sure that that will be paid. Then he grows cold and passes away.

Let us now read ’Apology’.

There is an introduction; this introduction is written by one of the members of Auroville. You know we have produced this book The Aim of Life with the help of us a group of researchers of Auroville, including Deepti, Fredrik Christine, Andre and several others. We used to work on this subject and many other subjects and what we did was that we selected some of the best passages from world literature and then we wrote introductions, so I shall read that introduction.

A stout man with a flat face, broad nose, thick lips, heavy beard, shabby clothes and an unduly large paunch, which he hoped to reduce by dancing this is how Socrates has been described. Not a very flattering description of the man commonly considered the founder of Western philosophy. Although far from the Greek ideal of beauty, his face shows the honesty, courage and humour which has come to be called "Socratic". Plato speaks of him as "all glorious within". For the historical facts of Socrates' life we have to rely on the accounts of two of his pupils: Plato, the philosopher, and Xenophon, the historian and biographer. Born in 469 BC in Athens, Socrates first learned the trade of his father, a sculptor. He distinguished himself during the Peloponnesian War by his endurance and courage, married Xantippe, with whom he had three sons, held public office for a short time, and was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock poison in 399 BC.

What was his age when he died? Can you tell me? He was born in 469 BC and he died in 399 BC—70 years.

How do you count when it is BC? When it is AD it is easier to count. You have got it. 70 years, Yes. 70. Good.

He was 70 years old. Very easy to make out. 469 so 69 years in any case. Then 399 that is one year less than 400 so one year more you add so 69 plus one is 70. You know how to count this BC. No? Let us see.

First of all, do you know the meaning of BC and AD? AD is also sometimes called AC. Before Christ and After Christ. So if Christ is supposed to be one AD. Then Socrates was born in 469 BC. That is 469 years before Christ he was born so when you count BC. You count backward when you count AD. You count forward you go from 1 2 3 4 5 6 etc., But when you are before you count four sixty nine, four sixty, eight four, sixty seven, four sixty, seven six etcetera. You go backward so if he died in 399 BC. Then you calculate 69 plus 1 so you get 70. All right.

Most of his time was spent in the public places of Athens—in the streets, the marketplace and the gymnasium—engaging his fellow citizens in conversation on subjects ranging from reflections on nature to inquiries into politics; but he never set himself up as a teacher. A number of these conversations were recorded by Plato who, after Socrates' death, founded the "Academy", the famous school of Athens which lasted nearly 800 years.

To establish an academy is a very big task, like we are establishing a Super School is also a very big task. Today you may not recognise it but as years pass there will be long traditions and people will flock to this place to study the highest secrets of existence and the practise of these secrets and you’ll be counted as the first students of this great school. So Plato established a big institution called the Academy and this Academy produced a great number of philosophers. Aristotle, one of the great philosophers of the world, was a people of this Academy. He was a student of Plato and Aristotle was the teacher of Alexander the Great.

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. In which a very important town or city ….was located, it was called Sparta. Now this Peloponnesis and Sparta were away from another part of Greece of which Athens was the principle 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 Greece 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, and philosophical. Sparta was highly disciplined and 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 early childhood the child would be put under a 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 of 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 an agrarian economy? The Agricultural economy is called agrarian economy, an 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 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 in spite 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 arête, 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, it's 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 quibblers. 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. Right? It is a real meaning of desirable. But now you quibble that which is capable of being desired. Suppose 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 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. Pressure is desired in other words pleasure is capable of being desired therefore pleasure is desirable. The meaning here is that which ought to be desired. That is the meaning of desirable but desirable also means that it is capable of being desired. So this word is ambiguous, there are just two meanings so while translating this this word is translation of this. This variable means that it is capable of being desired. So having only here we should be given another word of this the argument tries to show that it is also which ought to be desired. This is quibbling on the word desirable.

It's called quibbling so suffice is to quibble. You take one word which has two meanings and then gradually they would make you forget the first meaning and insist upon the second meaning. And then you believe that argumentatively you have come to the second meaning but that is not true when you examine you find there is a trick that is called quibbling. He speaks of himself as a seeker of truth or as a lover of wisdom a philosopher as a result of this reluctance to use his talents for material gains. He lived a life so far that the surface antiphon could mock a slave who was made to live like that would run away. So that his living was even poorer than a slave. But his simple lifestyle was not the outcome of self-torment or asceticism. It originated in his attitude of complete indifference towards physical enjoyments. The history of philosophy speaks of priests and post-Socratic thinkers illustrating Socrates’s impact on the course of western philosophy and science. You can hear this word let a course off western philosophy and science. Prior to Socrates the intuitive visions of the orphic mysteries had a decisive influence on greek thought. Socrates and his followers Plato and Aristotle established a rational and intellectual approach towards life. An approach which extensively influenced the course of western history their reflections on men's intellectual abilities led to the notion of the independent source bestowed with cognitive powers through which man could achieve excellence and perfection. Socrates regarded the right use of the intellect as a great help to enlighten man in his search for the highest good in life. According to Socrates knowledge is an indispensable part of the excellent and perfect life because doing good requires knowing what is good. He used to say man has only one thing to consider in performing any action that is whether he is acting rightly or wrongly like a good man or like a bad man.

For Socrates knowing the good necessarily implies doing it otherwise men would consciously be choosing misery over known happiness. Knowledge and wisdom he says are virtues of the soul which pursues the perfect and excellent life by relentlessly seeking wisdom and knowledge or as he puts it by practicing philosophy and exalting and elucidating the truth Socrates developed a method for discriminating between mere opinion and knowledge. This method became known as directive in this question-answer type of discussion proposed opinions are reduced to essential statements in order to reveal unclear assumptions unexpected implications and ferecious inferences. The intellectual truth just revealed says Socrates is only a very imperfect image of the truth which is in the divine's mind. Compared to God's men's knowledge is mere ignorance when the oracle of Apollo Adelphi called Socrates the wisest of living men. Socrates set out to disprove that statement, convinced that he really knew nothing in the end Socrates discovered that his so-called wisdom lay in the simple fact that he was conscious of his own ignorance. To know that you do not know is the first step towards knowing yourself. When at the age of 70 Socrates was tried in the court of essence for heresy and corruption of the youth it seems evident that these charges were linked to his constant criticism of any authoritarian painted knowledge. His defence the ‘Apology’ is one of the three texts by Plato portraying Socrates in his last days. The dialogues ‘Crito’ and ’Phaedo’’ show Socrates facing death he refuses to escape because as he argues it is more important to live justly than merely to live. The ‘Apology’ shows Socrates in court he rejects accusations of the prosecution then goes on to give an account of his life revealing the divine mission he has followed and explaining his methods. He has used in fulfilling his he is accused of taking fees influencing and corrupting the youth inquiring into things below earth and above heaven and of believing in gods of his own. Socrates defends himself saying that these accusations are attempts of the ignorant to suppress diverse opinions and present free discussions in science art and politics. In his life-long search for wisdom Socrates had always exposed those who without knowledge claimed to have found the truth. In his eyes ignorance disguises knowledge is mere arrogance and the epitome of falsehood even when it became evident that he would be sentenced to death he did not surrender to his accusers. A Socrates said such an act although it might have saved his life would have destroyed his soul for it would have meant surrendering wisdom to ignorance. For Socrates who claims to be subject to a divine or supernatural experience the real difficulty is not so much to escape death but to escape from doing wrong. For all we know he says death may be a blessing therefore how foolish to fear it more than we fear those evils which we know to behaviours to be afraid of death is just another form of thinking one is wise when one is not. As expected his accusers who would have been satisfied with nothing less than Socrates complete surrender were not convinced by his defence and sentenced him to death. But Socrates’s economist acceptance of the verdict increases fame as a wise man and he has come to be regarded as a perfect example of the truly philosophical life. Historically he personifies a turning point in western history. Where mystical contemplation began to give way to logical reasoning. Socrates' concept of virtue through knowledge modified down through the edges has become a distinctive trait of the western ideal of man.

So this is introduction and tomorrow we shall read the text all right